My favorite sound of all is this. Quiet.
To illustrate: I have owned my present vehicle for a year and four months and have yet to learn how to operate the complicated radio or use the sound system in any way. And I have used my RAV4 for two lengthy and several shorter road trips. One of the ways my daughter is very unlike me is that she almost always has something to listen to while she works, cooks, drives, takes a bath—pretty much for every activity.
It can be argued that we don't see with our ears, but I'm certain I see more and better in the quiet than when there is noise going on—whether it's the noise of conversation, music, or a sound book. This is in part because I'm a One Thing At A Time woman. I'm not able to focus well on more than one thing at once. And when I'm driving, I want to take deep note of the sights around me. It's one reason I drive the back roads instead of the interstates as often as I can.
When I drafted this piece, we were in the season of colors—crimson, gold, copper, rust, platinum, and still some greens to set off the richness of fall. Next to these are the red barns and the weathered, abandoned outbuildings, which I love even more than the brilliance. I am a woman drawn to the subtler themes. I relish lines as much as colors. Now the golden cornstalks have been razed and the fall plowing begun, so the colors are varied browns––beige, peat, some ochre. But the lines of the hills themselves and the traces left by the columbines and the plows are a work of art. All this I see so much more fully in the quiet.
There are different kinds of quiet. When I studied at the Scandinavian Yoga and Meditation School, I spent more than three months in silence, a little over a month, each of three times. But the silence was not complete. Our voices were not to be used to communicate, but we chanted and sang, the teachers and school staff talked to each other and to us students to give us instructions and assign karma yoga. Music might be piped into the dining room during a meal sometimes. Silence in this context is what I would call spiritual practice, though I know my teacher, Swami Janankananda, might or might not identify it as spiritual. Many inner things can happen, transformation can happen, and personal demons may be confronted during that kind of silence. In certain meditations there is utter silence, so if there is a slight rustle of movement, the instructor will say (breaking the silence further), "No moving."
But quiet. Maybe it's not quite the same as silence. I want quiet when I'm writing, but I also welcome now and then the woodpecker's hammering, the blue jay's scold, the wind whipping by. But mostly quiet is what I need. A person at the other end of the house can be making no audible sound that reaches my end, and yet I feel the noise of another being, their energy in my space.
I feel for my writing friends who are surrounded by the noise of their ever-present children during quarantine. Because what quiet may mean most is peace. And, much as those small beings are cherished, their presence does not, most of the time, bring with it the peace of quiet.
The word quiet was brought to you by Jody Keisner, herself a writer and professor with children at home, all trying to survive and thrive during quarantine.