In search of silence

By Caitlin Kelly

Have you ever visited a place so quiet you could hear yourself digest?

For me, it was a ranch in southern New Mexico, land owned by friends of ours, land so wild we ended up confined to quarters because a mountain lion was on the prowl nearby.

We’re now in a spot almost as quiet, the “northern neck” of Virginia, about two hours’ drive southeast of Washington, D.C., a city where the sound of airplanes seems almost constant.

I sat on the dock in the sunshine here and heard only gulls squawking, a dog barking, a distant lawn-mower and wind in the trees.

Heaven!

English: SHO "Little Wonder" leaf bl...
English: SHO “Little Wonder” leaf blower in action, Washington, D.C., USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We live in a town 25 miles north of New York City where two specific, unwanted and frequent sounds drive me mad — the leaf-blowers and the constant buzz and roar of helicopters and airplanes taking off from a nearby airport. They’re constant, the routes changed since I bought our place, making our top-floor balcony less restful than it once was.

I’ve lived in much noisier places — downtown Toronto, (constant sirens from a nearby fire-hall), the edge of Paris (right on the peripherique, ring road, constant traffic) and Montreal (snow-plows in winter.) Then I moved to small-town New Hampshire and enjoyed the change from non-stop noise.

My appreciation for silence really blossomed after an eight-day silent retreat that Jose and I took two summers ago. Like everyone there, some 75 people of all ages from around the world, we were forbidden from speaking, and only occasionally whispered a bit in our room. Mostly we wrote on Post-It notes to one another and shut our traps.

It was a very powerful way to realize how exhausting it is to be chatty and charming and social, (even civil), with the many people we typically encounter every day in normal life. Here’s my post about the sounds I heard there when everything else was still.

The retreat also showed me how pleasant it is to remain silent while surrounded by others equally committed to a break from wasted words. Try it for a day and you quickly realize how much we speak, yet how little we really say, (some of us), that we truly feel or need to communicate from the depths of our heart.

Here’s a story I wrote about that experience that ran in Marie Claire.

Here’s a brief, recent lovely post from Beijing — with photos — by an American copy editor living there, describing his search for peace in that crowded and burgeoning city.

What’s the quietest place you have ever visited?

Did you enjoy it?