There is something ineffably sublime about true silence. I don’t mean silence in an absolute sense devoid of all sounds entirely. The true silence I am talking about is an absence from the bombarding cacophony of modern noises and disruptions, including the unpleasantries of many human utterances. The true silence I am talking about is the absence of all noise except for those of the natural world, both inanimate and living, like rivers and waterfalls, as well as those of the creatures all around us such as the frenetic insects and boisterous birds. True silence is a sensuous respite, as well as an emotional one. For what displeasure and hate can we harbor when we simply steep ourselves in sanctuaries free from the complications of man? Lulled in the myriad layers of nature, we adopt, instinctively, a calm demeanor and explore our senses and thoughts, as well as our emotional connections to those thoughts. Let me give you a personal vignette to help elucidate the point.
There is a hideaway in the western mountains of Maine that my girlfriend and I like to book a couple times a year when we get the chance; a place we wish we could live. It is a rustic cabin located on a mountain ridge amongst large private acreage that the owner’s rent out for all seasons. It is located 2 miles off the nearest road (a very sparsely traveled rural one at that), completely and unreservedly isolated. We last went in the dead of winter where the silence and stillness was almost ethereal. There was not a whisper of sound other than the noise coming from the roiling flames of the wood-burning stove, occasionally flaring and popping splendidly; the sounds of the mountain winds soughing through the pine trees all around the cabin; and, the occasional chatter of a hardy red squirrel outside. No mechanical or electric noises – no sounds of human activity whatsoever.
This experience was indescribably regenerative and I could only wonder at the mental restoration and continued ease we would all exhibit in the absence of the constant frustrations and distractions that we willingly and unwillingly subject ourselves to in modern society. If we could just keep these feelings of immersive contentment all the time that we only draw upon during these brief glimpses! I can’t tell you how many instances I found myself smiling, having not even noticed, because of the overwhelming happiness I was experiencing. Innumerable times I relished activities like stoking the fire, going outside to grab more firewood in the frigid cold (which was a nice recess from the warm cabin), and the many times I sat in admiration that this is actually an option for living life. Countless times I looked up from my book to gaze out at the upland panoramas all around the cabin to let my mind wander, and some of those times my mind peacefully ceased to think about anything at all, which I can confidently say doesn’t happen any other time.
This silence, as close as I have come to my definition of true silence, was an absolution from the punishing conditions of modern society. We don’t stop to think that this simplicity is really how life should actually be, rather than just thinking these experiences are a minute break from the de rigueur of our modern lives. We shouldn’t be trying to put up with, or even numb ourselves to, a million different distracting, aggravating sounds that defy our sense of well-being just so that we may enjoy a few pleasures and conveniences that come about from putting up with a contemporary lifestyle. This notion, oddly, is something that we just don’t seem to want to accept.
One thing I have noticed when being with others, in settings achieving true silence, is that this modern world has conditioned so many of us to be uneasy when we are absent of ceaseless, modern background noise and distractions. To most, a respite in true silence, when it is actually achieved, is certainly enjoyed for a short time, maybe as long as a few days or a week, but then we become restless and anxious. We look for diversions, noises to fill the silence, something or someone to engage with in a way that brings us back to a semblance of what it seems are necessary conditions for modern life. I wonder, do these neurotic tendencies come from a fear of genuine introspection? Is it a fear of facing the raw elements of life, stripped of modern artificialities? After all, these constant distractions and focuses in modern life are really all we know, until we have the opportunity in the true silence of nature to know something different. This kind of introspection would lead us to intimately consider why we live our lives the way we do and if we should change it rather than find ways to justify our modern lives.
In the true silence of nature, we come to appreciate things with the fine discerment of our senses and with sharp mental acuity. We think that we explore the nuances of our senses through the latest modern pleasures and products of human advancement, but nature knows no advancement in its delivery of sights, sounds, and wonders because they were perfected eons ago. I commonly find that when I do with less conveniences – I discover so much more. An iPhone capturing everything and making anything accessible accomplishes a lot of accumulation and exposure, but delivers very little intrinsic value. A pair of binoculars and a passion for being completely ensconced by the transcending qualities and surrounds of the natural world delivers endless joy.
The sad fact about true silence, though, is that it is an ideal, rather than reality. Within the city confines, this is not to be found, nor in suburbia. In remote rural areas there is the greatest opportunity for true silence, but even there it is destroyed by man’s reach and exploitation such as the shooting of firearms, recreational vehicles, chainsaws, and countless other man made culprits. These are not only annoyances to be subjected to, but also stresses on our bodies like the slow stress that is almost as imperceptible as water eroding away rock. We see it in animal populations as well. As stress from human activity accumulates, the overall health of a specie’s population decreases as it becomes harder to focus on and execute upon the essential features of life like finding mates, food, shelter, etc. as well as damage to their general well-being, no doubt. This background noise that we have supposedly “adjusted to” is just an unnecessary stress.
When our mind is constantly working to identify all of these innumerable distractions (establishing what are regular occurrences and those types of noises that we are conditioned to recognize as danger or requiring action or attention), we are losing a sense of general well-being. We tap into a supreme sense of well-being in the midst of the natural world, many times with great intensity for the duration we are plunged within it. But then we whisk ourselves away back to a world with many things that ultimately don’t matter and keep us from finding true solace and quietude. We need this true silence as an integral component of our being, just as vital as food or water, not just as a time-constrained, fleeting dimension of life. Incorporating this as a fundamental facet of our being will restore a long-deprived equilibrium.