The days and nights move along slowly for me. Activity and busy-ness don’t come into play much as I move slowly towards recovery. Patience is now a mantra as I try to allow this slow moving, almost stillness, the space it requires from me.
As I begin to write, one of my cats, Bert, sits in front of the window making little chirpy cat noises as she watches birds at the feeders. Short, high pitched little snippets of sound that indicate she is excited. She interacts with life in her own way, but what she takes time to observe and respond to is what animates her. Otherwise she is asleep!
There is sound all around us. An infinite soundscape, like a smorgasbord of food, but for sounds. Right now I hear the subtle sound of the timer on the fish-tank ticking the minutes down before it comes on again.
I have seemingly endless time now to be aware of the variety offered up by my home soundscape. From kitty chirping to timer ticking, there really is no true silence here. Life around us is all about doing things, being busy and productive. It’s all about noise: music, TV, movies, radio. There is beeping and buzzing from endless sources. Even the refrigerator and furnace speak up from time to time. And Bert and Stewie chime in with their meows, purring and squeaks.
When life creates a lot of noise I find myself becoming jittery and tense. Almost anxious. To be clear, it is usually an anxiousness about nothing in particular. It just a response to noise. Maybe you’re thinking “So what?”
If I pay attention to my body and mind I find that I can get wrapped up and lost in background noise. Some of it is like fingernails on a chalk board. Not all noise grates. There are also softer, melodic sounds. Sometimes they get drowned out by the harsher more abrupt sounds.
With these sounds and noise just about everywhere, I expend a great deal of energy trying to buffer or quiet them. I find I am more aware when there is a pause or lull, and I notice my mind and attention wandering all over they place now that I don’t have to filter the noises as much. My thoughts speak up, usually creating their own stories that may be positive or not. The point is not always to judge them but rather if they are true or not. An unchecked mind can wander aimlessly and walk along, arm in arm with emotions and feelings. Generally this results in thinking that becomes lost and confused. Stories are narrated that are not real.
If you think about all the “noise” in our lives that is generated by re-playing conversations/thoughts/events, self talk, list making, small talk, negotiating, important conversations and all added together with car and traffic sounds, machine noises, other people talking, the radio, electronic buzzing, quiet, let alone actual silence, is hard to come by. Does it matter? I think it does. It does for me.
It is difficult to silence thoughts that come to us as we settle into sleep at night or as we rustle awake in the morning. When our feelings get hurt we become expert story tellers.
As I spend time sitting, reading, drawing, “working” on recovering I become more aware of sounds and thoughts. Sometimes I can figure out how to turn off or ignore some of those sounds. My thoughts are a challenge to turn off. If I have presence of mind to stop moving I am able to focus on listening to the softer, secret sounds surrounding me. In so doing the other sounds fade and sometimes even silence arises.
The softer, secret sounds may be leaves dancing together in the wind, the sound of a snowflake landing on a carpet of snow, an eagle calling across the valley,
Why does it matter? For me, I am reminded of that snowy winter day when I stood still, my boots no longer squeaking on the frozen ground. When I stopped moving I saw fluffy snow falling around and on me, it was like being in a snow-globe. Then I heard it. The sound of a weightless snowflake landing on a drift of other snowflakes. Just a soft, soft, pffft sound. I had heard wind and sleet before, but never a snow-flake landing! A feeling of awe and wonder embraced me.
Another time I was reading outside on a summer’s day and heard a buzzing sound. I looked up thinking I would find a bee or mosquito darting around. Nope. No bee or mosquito anywhere. But there was a hummingbird! I was hearing the buzzing of those insanely fast wings working to keep the little body in the air.
Decades ago as I lay on the grass near the Taj Mahal in India, eyes closed, body and mind at rest, I heard chattering near me. Without moving I opened my eyes to see a squirrel sniffing my hand. Tentatively his paw reached out and I wiggled my finger. He scurried away squealing something in squirrel language.
Something happened to me as I experienced these things. First I experienced awe and joy, but I also had found beauty and mystery in the place I inhabited. “Nature” became something important and not abstract. It was dynamic and alive and I sensed how little of it I probably paid attention to. When I did, it presented beauty and mystery and awe.
When I tuned out the sounds of a “busy” life I discovered the whispers of another world and the wonder of this world. A world I share with miracles. A world that sustains awe and beauty, fragility, power and life.
Now, when snow falls I listen for the feather soft landing of a snowflake, and I experience wonder. Now, when I hear a sound I look up to see birds dancing together on a branch, a tiny, newly hatched baby bird providing the song they are dancing to.
When I experience the sound of a snowflake landing or see birds dancing to a chirping lullaby, I am changed.
I am reminded of Wendell Berry’s poem: The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
A feeling of being balanced occurs. I come back into alignment with Nature, with the Earth. I am humbled and renewed. The art of being quiet allows me to hear the sounds of life.
This time of healing and renewal is challenging for me. I become restless and frustrated, wishing for a faster return to strength and health. As I watch sparrows dancing together at the feeders I am coming to understand I can choose for this slower pace, this occasional stillness, to be a blessing, if I would only close my eyes to just listen and then, when it is time to open my eyes and see what I may not have noticed and feel the power of awe and wonder as healing powers. So many gifts and lessons from Nature.