What It Is…Is Quiet

I have a bit of an awkward relationship with silence. Living in an apartment building with neighbors on two sides, as well as below, I hear their day-to-day lives on a regular basis. I’ve lived close to airports and train tracks on multiple occasions, so the noises of transportation have become background filler. Even when I lived in a rural area, I’d have trouble sleeping at night because of the crickets and the warm summer breeze. There are auditory stimuli everywhere, and I assure you that I’m very aware of it.

During my first year at college, my high school girlfriend split up with me. For the first month or so, I never really was convinced things were over, and considering how much we still saw each other, it’s quite likely she agreed initially. The night before my nineteenth birthday, she invited me to stay the night with her.  After we slept together (literally sleeping) that night, I woke up to her kicking me out of her dorm. It was at that point I truly realized our relationship was over.

That night, I found myself wandering around the lake on campus. My family had forgotten about my birthday thanks to the Ohio State-Michigan game, high school friends who had come into town that weekend were not to be found thanks to a mutual avoidance of each other between the ex and I, and the only two people who did remember my birthday both had prior commitments that night (though they did at least have dinner with me). It was in this moment, pacing around the lake in a methodical gait, that I experienced true silence for the first time.

The entire day leading up to that walk, my mind was filled with depressing thought after depressing thought. I felt alone, forgotten, and rejected, amongst other emotions crossing my mind. Yet, as soon as I started my trek around the lake, I was left in total silence. It wasn’t as if I had actively tried to stop thinking of things…for that matter, I was trying my hardest TO THINK of something…anything really. With each passing step, the silence held a heavier presence. No thoughts, no ambient sounds, no traffic. Nothing.

Image credit to Mara earth light on Flickr

It was the weirdest feeling I’d experienced in my life. Imagine spending years and years in a desert where all you see is sunlight and sandstorms. Then one day, the heavens open up and it rains…marshmallows. Part of you knows it isn’t right, yet you’ve never seen or felt rain to know for sure that it’s wrong. That’s how I felt in the silence.

Silence, on the other hand, can be looked at in the context of having time to one’s self to think. This is the silence that I’m admittedly a bit more familiar with. Despite that, I’ve found that this form of silence has become a luxury in life rather than a right. With each passing day, I find that my interpersonal interactions grow significantly, be they in the form of emails, phone calls, face-to-face communication, text messages, or other ways entirely.

For an introvert such as myself, this is both a blessing and a curse. One on hand, this level of communication forces me to interact with those around me out of someone else’s necessity, rather than solely relying on my own desires. Sounds great, right? On the other hand, I find myself increasingly wanting to avoid human contact at all, particularly after a long day/week/month at work.

Image credit to JD_WMWM on Flickr

Part of growing older is a loss of that second form of silence. Family, children, and other adult responsibilities slowly eat away at that silence until there’s very little of it left. While I don’t anticipate ever really losing the capability to find time to myself, part of me wonders if ever there will come a time where the silence I love — that lonely, reflective type of silence — will fully overlap with the silence that comes from a complete lack of thought. The thought of it happening at all is bad enough, but what if having both forms of silence is the only way I could have either? That scares the hell out of me.

What are your opinions on silence? Is it a good or bad thing to have in your life?

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9 thoughts on “What It Is…Is Quiet

  1. I think silence is a great thing, especially in today’s world. I told my husband that one of the things I was most looking forward to on vacation the type of silence where I actually didn’t have to think- to just lie there on a beach or a ship and not have to do or decide anything, or be anywhere. There were no phones, no Internet, nothing to constantly check. It was awesome. It wasn’t a quiet environment, but the lack of necessary action/decisions made it quiet in my mind.

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  2. Because I live in the country, silence is subjective here. If it’s silence purely in terms of noise, nada. When people stop talking, you tune into the birds – oh my God the birds – or the nomadic cat announcing his entrance to our vacinity. If it’s silence in terms of thinking space, possibly lots depending on the person. While I’m used to it, it disturbs the hell out of a friend of mine when he’s here (and the darkness, too, since there are no street lights).

    The second-last time I experienced mental silence for any length of time was during three weeks in Thailand, and it was bliss. My brain rarely shuts off, but the pre-cursor to that particular trip was that weird slice of time between school ending and university beginning. No deadlines, no exams, no work over the summer. In the end, I had to keep a daily diary because without it, I would have no memory of what happened. It’s still a blur, that’s how fried my head was. The most recent time was last summer in France, although my mental silence was occasionally interrupted by the ducks across the valley (we were in the fois gras region) – bit of a mood killer.

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    1. While I live in the city now, I grew up in the country and spent my first 21 years or so living there. Birds are devilish creatures that I wish would just be quiet. I do miss having a cat around though. Having a cat was wonderful for my stress levels.

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      1. They are so loud! Although they were omitted by the sound of the five fox cubs we had one year. We’d put food out for them to help them along, and there was this one troublemaker always going after the same sibling, meaning the fight usually ended up in the food bowl (they were so small at the time, they had to stand on their back legs to get into it). Always left with gravy on their ears.

        See, I often wonder if that’s true, because I’ve somehow wound up with stress-inducing ones. The dangers of smart animals…

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        1. Cats are pretty much the best animal ever. Even though mind did cause me a bit of stress from time to time, just being able to sit and pet him was really relaxing.

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  3. Silence can be a good thing especially when you need it or want it. I think too much, and too often we are glued to the world via the web and whatnot that we forget to take a moment for ourselves. That’s what the silence can do. It can ease and clear our heads. I too, have lived in silence but I find it refreshing. It can be a nice pace from all the technology and the busiest of the world. I just want to go back to my dad’s country and live simply. It was nice to live differently and have that experience of silence and not be connected to anything. I treasure that moment and feeling, plus I got to go to the beach! ^^ That’s even better~!

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    1. I think for me the technology is less of an issue than the overwhelming amount of emphasis that technology has in my job. I love using technology and I love working with it on a regular basis. With that said, it’s a very different feeling when it comes to working on technology for fun and working on it for work. One helps me relax my mind, while the other just drains me.

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  4. My wife is very much the same way. There are very few times where I’ve come home to a completely silent house (unless she’s fallen asleep for a nap, that is). I can deal with the ambient noise in small doses, but it’s very tiring after a while. I’ve been known to stay up late just to get the quiet to unwind my mind. Hell, I even play most video games with the sound off for the same reason.

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