Silence is golden, let’s get rich.
My high school cross-country coach used to say this to us jabbering teenagers whenever we weren’t paying attention and he needed to make an announcement. I thought it was kind of clever, mostly corny, and definitely didn’t make a ton of sense. Now, I want nothing more than to be rich on golden silence.
Silence is powerful. In my MSW program, we learned to use silence as a therapeutic tool in session to create space for thinking, reflection; give important pause to overwhelming emotion. Only in silence can we hear it. The answer to the question, the solution to the problem, the need in the want, the want in the need.
Only when all the background noise falls away, when the chatter, the influx of information, the barrage of communication is stalled, are we able to access that which helps us to manage the cacophony of our everyday lives.
At least, that’s how it works for me as I recently discovered on our first-ever family camping trip. It was six days in a tent by the beach, cooking every meal over an open fire because the camping stove broke on the first day, cell-phones off, presence on. It was swimming in the ocean every day, naps on the beach, digging up sand crabs, building sandcastles and campfires, looking at the stars, getting dirty, feeling cleansed. In a word, it was glorious.
Made more so by the deep quiet the three of us somehow wordlessly agreed upon early on in the trip. We don’t get to exist in quiet very often. My son is a smart, three-year-old chatterbox who is curious about every little thing. I am a writer obsessed with words and the sound of my own voice. My husband talks all day long at work. Our days are loud, messy, filled with words and details and explanations and limit-setting, all while our phones are pinging with news alerts, texts, calls, demands. Then we go to bed and do it all again. There is so little room for stillness, for silence.
Yet on this trip, we somehow agreed that this deep quiet is what we all needed. Aside from some incredible nightly talks about all the big stuff around the campfire after our son fell fast asleep in tandem with the setting sun, we spent most of our trip in silence. Once we coordinated the food needs, the logistics of hauling everything from our campsite to the beach at the start of the day, then back to our campsite at the end of it, we hardly exchanged words. There was no need.
Who needs to talk when you are swimming in the ocean? Watching the flames of a fire? Dancing in the sand, roasting marshmallows, falling in meditative rhythm with the sea?
If I learned anything from this week, it is how desperately I need the relief that quiet can bring. How we all do.
Because what bubbled up in that silence has astounded to me. I have found the answers to big questions I’ve been tormented over the past year. My entire nervous system downshifted from a hyper-vigilant ball of stress, to a slow and sustainable rhythm focused only on the immediate need before me. I feel more connected to my family in the experiences we shared, rather than the words we exchanged. I didn’t need to define it as it was happening, I just got to be in it.
We arrived home sunburned, dirty, and exhilarated. As I washed the six days of campfire, sand, and salt out of my hair during what can only be described as the best shower of my life, I realized I felt strange. Something was missing. The low hum of my anxiety was gone. Replaced with a resonant peace deep at the base of my spine. This is the miracle of quiet, connection, presence in nature with the ones you love most.
Unfortunately, I suspect this feeling won’t last long. My son starts preschool in a week, my summer vacation from my book is over and I have a two-inch thick manuscript I need to slash to about half that size. My husband is working harder than ever, and our phones are once again on. I don’t know when the three of us will again get this cocoon of peace, this dazzling week of connection, quiet, and adventure together as the pace of daily life chugs back to it’s regularly scheduled programming.
But I do know that the shackles of that pace are of my own making. In the constant phone use, refreshing tabs and social media, focusing mental energy on everything but the immediate need before me, I create constant opportunity for stress. It’s up to me to create more opportunity for peace. It’s up to me to slow that pace whenever possible for the betterment of my family, my work, myself.
It’s up to me, to all of us, to turn down the volume every once and awhile and listen to the silence.