The blizzard came and brought with it lots of snow. And the end result was quiet. Even the high winds were quiet. The snow muffled everything. I live on a busy road that is usually a white noise of traffic, but not today. Today I lived in wilderness, in quiet. It was like going on a wilderness retreat, and taking your house along, so that you had actually gone somewhere new, but you were sitting on your own couch.
It was such a reminder of the healing power of quiet. Of giving your senses a break from the constant overstimulation of sound. Sitting in quiet this morning put me in the mood for taking in. For receiving rather than acting. The quiet made me want to rest, and not act (shoveling not withstanding) and I found myself enjoying the act of sitting in my house and not hearing anything at all. Maybe the heating system, or the occasional sound of something blowing on the porch, but the quiet, the silence, became, so famously sung by Simon and Garfunkel, a sound. And I found myself resting in it.
Quiet isn’t my strong suit. As my second grade teacher wrote in my final report card, “That girl sure can talk.” And I spend my days in conversation—that is my work, and I continue the conversations in my head and there is a constant buzz and chatter of one sort of the other. It’s taken many years of practice, of learning to sit in moments of silence, in moments of quiet for me to tolerate it, let alone, as I did today, to feel it actually renew me, to feel it like some sort of nutrient that I was craving.
I once did a stint in Early Intervention with toddlers and there was a little 2 year old boy, Henry, who was brought to the early intervention toddler group in a van. I would get him out of his car seat and as I picked him up he became the heaviest child in the world. He wouldn’t move or react or anything. Instinctively I held on to him and he rested his head and he and I would sit outside of the classroom—in silence, and he would just rest there. Unmoving, still, quiet. He would rest for about 20 minutes, give or take. It reminded me of those mats that people charge their cell phones on. He would lie on me and it was as if he was borrowing some sort of energy from me. He would stay there long enough and then slowly he would start to stir—like waking up after hibernation. There was some nutrient he was craving—connection, quiet, care, stillness. He was two and had very few words so I never knew exactly. But he knew what he needed and he got it.
There are so many shoulds, and so many suggestions of the right way to do things, or be healthy, or get well. Instead, there needs to be a greater emphasis on helping people hear the quiet voice inside themselves about what they need at that moment. There isn’t one right way any more than there is one right shirt to wear every single day. Today the quiet felt nourishing to me. Certainly ten years ago it would have been too much for me and I likely would have missed it altogether by having music or sound on in the background. And even now, on a different day, I might have needed something else.
Henry was an incredible teacher for me. His ability to know what he needed and just do it. Because it was so tangible, so physical, it was easy to see and easy to do. But because it was wordless, I learned how much you have to listen to an inner voice about it: call it intuition, or feeling, or wisdom. And remember that it might be something that not everyone needs. Henry was the only 2 year old in the group who needed that kind of holding each day. But when he got it, he was ok. Learning to listen to this voice, even if it fell outside of the ‘norm’ helped me trust what I needed for my own healing and it helped me trust more with others when the needs were less tangible and I had to look or listen a little more to understand the need.
And you can start this process at any moment. Notice what is happening. Ask yourself what you need. Trust the answer.
©Gretchen L Schmelzer, PhD 2015