The Appeal of Silence
One of the interesting parts of my upbringing is that I spent an almost equal amount of time in both urban and rural settings. Because of this, I feel like I’ve always been torn between the two worlds. With an urban setting I have access to so much, like a wide variety of restaurants, movie theaters, plays, concerts, and nothing is very far away. However, with a rural setting I have the ability to commune with nature, to enjoy birdsong uninterrupted by car stereos and loud exhaust pipes. There’s also less light pollution, so in the countryside I can see the stars in all their glory. I find it both inspiring and calming.
As I’ve gotten older (and arguably wiser), I feel like my preference is leaning more towards rural living, mostly because I find I enjoy the silence. Not necessarily absolute quiet. I don’t want to live in a sensory-deprivation tank. But the lack of noise pollution – the aforementioned car stereos, neighborhood parties, fireworks, lawnmowers, and airplanes – makes me feel more at ease. It’s also good for my creativity.
For example, when my partner goes out – running errands or visiting her parents – I like to enjoy the silence of the house. Not that she’s loud or makes a lot of noise (wink), but when she’s gone I turn off the television, no music, just the soft hum of the aquarium filters and the panting of my dogs. It’s sort of serene.
Unfortunately, opening the windows breaks the atmosphere. Too many cars, lawnmowers, low-flying aircraft (I’m apparently on a flight path).
But in the (mostly) silent house I can sit on the couch and watch the fish swimming in my tanks, read without distraction, or work on a short story in a completely immersive state of mind.
I’ve been tempted to take a retreat to a Buddhist monastery. I had a professor back in college who did that once a year. Spent a week or two in a monastery in Georgia (the state, not the country). He’d live on their schedule and help with chores, but then have a lot of free time to read and write. He said he’d get more accomplished in that week or two than he’d would throughout the rest of the year. I think it’d be an interesting experience. And productive.
One of the main things I miss from childhood is the long walks I’d take by myself in the woods on my uncle’s dairy farm. Four-hundred or so acres of corn fields, hay fields, and virgin forest. I’d wander the rolling hills, climb trees, and let my imagination lead me. The silence was amazing. Mostly birdsong, but occasionally I’d encounter something larger, like those massive Wisconsin deer.
Those days of wandering in silence were where my creativity was molding, tested, experimented with. I’d search for pirate treasure (in Wisconsin?), hide from enemy soldiers, seek ancient ruins, and look for alien landing sites. At night, I’d lay in the back bedroom and listen to the whippoorwills in the apple orchid outside my window, or maybe hear something large (possible a bear) stomping on the leaves and dried twigs on the ground. Plus, we were far enough to the north that I’d occasionally get a glimpse of the northern lights.
I miss those days, but I try to recreate the environment when I can. It’s not quite the same, but I’ll take what I can get.
If you get the opportunity, try to provide yourself with a silent environment for a few hours, a day if you can swing it. No television, no music, no phone. Just you and your thoughts. It’s a unique experience.