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Recovering Silence

I spent my Christmas vacation with family in Minnesota. While we have winter in Texas, Minnesotans live winter. In Texas, we can lose--or gain--winter for a few days in any given winter month. Short-sleeves and sandals are often seen in January. The Bradford pear trees frequently bud during a warm week in February. Easter can bring snow and ice. It is very instructive for this Texan to spend time where winter is lived, as well as experienced. I find a calm in winter, a calm not related to the scenery which was, most days, shining white beneath a crystalline blue sky. It was a calm that grew from feeling the "state" of winter all around me, a state that invites stillness and going within.

It was my first vacation in at least 12 years where I did not do any work. It was a time in which I could not only fast from news and media, as I wrote about in the posts listed below, but also delve into silence. To sit in a comfortable, supportive chair by a fire and read. And to sit in that same chair when I was done reading and simply be, just be. Even as I write these words, it is hard for me to believe I actually did this, that I was able to become truly quiet within and without. But it did happen, and it was transformative.

The silence I entered was rich, deep and full. It surrounded me and made me float as an ocean would. It held me up, held me still, brought me waves of peace. I asked myself when I had last experienced this week-long dose of rest and silence. The answer: 40 years ago. Yes, that was the last time. I've been blessed with a day or two here and there of this full rest since then, but not a full seven days. I promised myself that from now on, I will make this a practice once a year, if not twice. 

I made myself other promises, too. As deeply as I care about nonprofit causes, I've unsubscribed from all but two of the email lists I was on or that my name ended up on after I made a small donation. Although giving to certain causes is important to me, twenty-five dollars at a time is about the most I can do, and often I give less.  Yet to see my email inbox, you'd think I'm a major philanthropist. The only word to describe how I felt as those emails came pouring in is "hounded." That term applies doubly to the sales emails I've been receiving from retailers that I do like. What makes them think I can buy something every day? Or every other day? I filtered the sales emails. On one day alone, 47 emails went into my sales filter. I will unsubscribe from a good portion of those, as well.

Research has revealed that part of our "addiction" to email is that we receive a tiny hit of dopamine when the email hits our inbox. I had reached the point, however, where all I felt was anxiety at seeing the numbers of "incoming" tick up as I was working to meet deadlines. Now that that is not happening, I experience a marked decrease in those anxious feelings; and, interestingly, a rise in my sense of purposefulness during the day as I spend much less time pressing "delete, delete, delete" on those unnecessary messages.

I made an effort last year to fast from unnecessary messages and news overdoses. I trained myself to turn off news I'd already heard that day, decided not to listen to any morning talk shows that covered distressing topics, because that was not the information I wanted to have in my head as I started my day. I learned to drive more often in silence, without the radio going. These were small steps, but I liked the results. I wasn't nearing Nirvana, but I did have more, albeit brief, moments of true calm. 

It was not until I had my week of living in restful silence in Minnesota, however, that I began to feel not just improvement, but restoration. Recovering the silence we all have within us--a deep, full, buoyant silence--leads to restoration. For me, it has also led to a greater sense of calm, a decrease in anxiety and "busy brain" as I go to sleep at night, and feeling more patience toward others and toward life in general. Most important, it put me back in touch with what my mother always called "the quiet center." At that center point, I feel and know something both mysterious and certain, radiantly calm and strong.  You might call it balance. Or spirit. Or G-d.  Whatever its name, I need it. I want it. I choose not to live life without it. 

I want to defend the silence I recovered during that winter week up north. When I think how easy it is to touch a button, key, or screen and have news, talk, sound, advertising, entertainment, documentaries, or music flood into my life, I want to remember how easy, how very easy it is not to touch those "buttons." So easy, and so good.


Text and photos, copyright Ysabel de la Rosa, all rights reserved.

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