Nowadays, it seems to take an event to know what quiet really is – a power outage, a heavy snowfall, a journey deep into the woods, a climb to the top of a mountain… something decisive to silence the omnipresent hum in our lives. Without an event, we are surrounded by the whir of hard drives and computer fans, the whoosh of traffic on the busy cross-street, the breathy buzz of the dehumidifier in the basement, the hum of that reliable workhorse fridge motor, the blowing of central heating or air conditioning, the jawing of talking heads on television, the wail of sirens in the distance, the sharp hacking of a helicopter or roar of an airplane overhead.
Sometimes, it’s the presence of another sound that pulls you into consciousness of all of the sounds you’re not hearing. It might be spring peepers nearby or the sound of your favorite lake lapping against the dock you’re laying on or the alarm chirp of a cardinal or the thrum of rain on a still, misty mountain pond – at some point as you’re listening to these sounds, perhaps you think of all the sounds you’re not hearing, the sounds of our human industriousness and creature comforts and demanding, 24/7 media. The lack of those sounds lets you enjoy the gentler sounds around you.
What descends for me then is a sense of quiet. It occurs to me that this quiet isn’t really about the absence of sound but the absence of noise, and it’s certainly subjective. We all know it when we experience it, and we experience it under different conditions. I feel safe asserting, however, that different as we all are, most of us need this sense of peace, relative stillness, quietude, and many of us feel like we don’t experience it enough.
When I walked up a mountain a couple of years ago on my birthday, I was struck as I hiked up the trail by the near-total absence of people and their sounds. I heard nature and was fully in it, and to me, it seemed utterly quiet because it quieted my mind. There was motion – rushing water, rustling trees, scampering small animals, and my body moving through space – yet there was a remarkable sense of stillness that descended over me. This sense of quiet, of stillness, was accompanied by a feeling of timelessness. There was no hurry, no bustle, no concern about where I’d been or where I was heading. There was just each moment, passing into the next, and my presence in it. And there was absolute clarity that each moment was exactly what it was supposed to be.