My mother grew up in the hills of Red Boiling Springs, Tennessee, much like Laura Ingalls Wilder, writer of the Little House on the Prairie books. She and her siblings and parents had no running water, an outhouse, and survived off the land.
They had a few hens for eggs, grew most of what they ate and what they didn’t grow — sugar, flour, molasses — they bought at the general store a mile down the road.
They were connected to the land. And to each other.
As a child and into my early adult years, I spent my summers in Red Boiling Springs. Not in the home my mother knew, but a few miles down the road in a newer one that my grandfather, a carpenter, had built. It had plumbing and heating and a fine front yard that sloped down to a winding creek. My grandfather planted trees that provided cooling shade and a small bridge across the creek.
On summer evenings, we would sit in wooden lawn chairs he had made, surrounded by the soft breezes and the hum of critters bouncing through the hills, and we would listen. In the growing darkness. In silence.
We had no need for words. We paused, simply resting in nature, bathed in the sweet scent of honeysuckle and staring up at a black canvas of sky sprinkled with stars.
As life took me forward, as it does most of us, I lost that ability to pause. Duties, deadlines, responsibilities. All took me away from what I feel is most important — the grace and gift of quiet and stillness as to connect with my true self and divine nature.
But not pausing had its price. I was stressed out in high-pressured jobs. I yearned for vacations, a space where I could rest and re-create myself. But the time away was always too short and I often returned to work even more depleted.
The truth is, the world doesn’t make it easy for us to be “at ease.” Instead, we are constantly in a state of “dis-ease.”
We are bombarded by noise and distraction. We no longer have time to contemplate or to pause, and if we do, we can find it frightening. Yes. Silence can be frightening. Not only outer noise but the inner chatter invading our mind serves a purpose. Without it, we may be face to face with hurts, sorrows, or the fear that maybe we’re not good enough or perhaps that our lives are a sham.
As a result, we live in a state of restlessness, that we should be doing something else or be somewhere else or checking two or more social mediums at the same time or else be left out.
But silence? The sacred pause? Our peace is there. Our sanity.
When I used to take the train into the city, I would immediately seek the “quiet car.” The other cars were jarring to my system, loud conversations, people talking on their cell phones. But in the quiet car, I could simply contemplate the scenery. Go within. Listen. Be.
A recent study discovered that if you live in a consistently noisy environment, you are likely to experience chronically elevated levels of stress hormones.
Silence seems to have the opposite effect.
A study published in the journal Heart stated that “two minutes of silence can be even more relaxing than listening to ‘relaxing’ music.” And in another study, periods of silence were shown to actually “grow the brain” — in other words, silence developed new cells in the hippocampus.
Kathleen Dowling Singh in The Grace of Aging says that silence is the “affirming presence of our essential nature, beyond words.” She also writes that “interior silence allows us to be receptive to insight and allows us to be mindful of intention. It empties the mind, and in that emptying, allows us the experience of grace.”
So how do we find that silence, that pause, that grace? It’s not complicated. We take the time. When my father had a high-stressed job at a TV station, he would often walk away from his desk to the park across the street and simply sit on a bench. He would watch the children playing, he would breathe and remind himself of what was important in life.
I spend deliberate time meditating. I also find that aging has helped. It has slowed me down so that solitude comes more easily and I create space to pause and reconnect with my soul, my spirit.
As a result, I find life more simple and meaningful. I find I am more mindful of what I experienced as a child in the hills of Tennessee — the scent of a summer rain and fresh earth; the cooling shade of a tree; a field filled with the flickering lights of fire flies.
And caring for my dad, who had a stroke, allows me numerous sacred pauses. When he can’t find words, I listen, I wait, and we connect in loving silence beyond language.
It’s easy to be caught up in the noise of life. But perhaps we can make an intention to step back and away, even for a few minutes throughout our day — find the quiet car, walk in the park, sit down to meditate — and find connection with our true essence and being.
It’s as simple as noticing. As taking a deep breath. As giving ourselves the gift of a sacred pause.