Coastline Pilot/LA TIMES
18 November 2005
Chasing the Muse
“And the vision that was planted in my brain… still remains … within the sound of silence.”
– Simon & Garfunkel
I’ve developed an incredible aversion to noise. It ‘sounds’ odd, but it’s true. Like the proverbial grating of nails against a chalkboard, I suddenly have a heightened awareness of sirens, traffic, bulldozers, auto horns, band practice, football games, tree trimmers, pile drivers, cell phones, helicopters, auto alarms, talk radio and late night rock and roll parties. What happened to silence? What happened, even to the quiet of the night?
This is hard stuff for a woman who lives in a city that wants to be a village - but can’t be a village, because it is no longer rural, and is certainly not smaller than a town. With population comes associated noises, and we definitely are an increasing population, if not in our town, then decidedly in our expanded environs. The days of ‘nobody over the hilltops except for the cattle’ are long gone.
It was with great glee and a sense of camaraderie that I read a bit in the outdoor section of the LA Times (parent paper), titled, “hush and be still”. John Balzar has my heart when he states, that “… quiet may be Earth’s most endangered natural resource.” I’ve been saying this for what seems to be forever.
There have been moments in my journey of the experience of quiet. Several years ago on a caravan trip in the middle of the Saline Valley, one of the traveling vehicles broke down. The dudes all gathered around the engine, staring at its compartment as if waiting for a sign from God. I realized that the sign would be slow in transmission, so I took off toward the salt flats. A light wind filled the air, and as I increased the distance between the others, and myself I found to my amazement – silence. I found I had forgotten what this was. The stillness raised the hairs on my arms. The quiet was so loud that my ears began to ring with nothingness. I was present to a place with which my being had lost contact.
What was this powerful solitude? I heard my thoughts as I had not heard them since a meditation retreat in the Rocky Mountains. I heard my internal voice without buffer. This was me – beyond the reach of the noisy counter of others.
The experience was rich, luxurious – one for which there could be no satiation. It was tactile in an odd way without substance. I felt as if I have stumbled upon a truth that I had long forgotten. The sanctity was of myself, unencumbered by the cacophony of a normal day, an echo of that which was uniquely me.
How is it, I wondered, that we’ve forgotten the value of quiet? Except for spiritual retreats or moments of prayer, our auditory senses are deluged most of our waking moments. We kick up the stereo volume to mask the sounds of the freeway. We raise our voices to be heard over restaurant din. We are exposed to cell phone conversations at every turn.
How can we ever know our own truth when we can’t even hear ourselves? How can we be more than a mirror of all that surrounds us?
Once I had the remembered experience of silence, I have thirsted for me. There is a healing from the wearing-ness of city living that occurs when we disconnect. What is important in our lives changes.
In silence, I no longer care what I am wearing, nor the color of my hair. I no longer care what stuff fills my home or my studio. I care about the heart of my children, my parents, my friends. I care about a quality of life that has no relation to purchases. I am renewed and prepared to engage in meaningful conversations about the journey of this conscious life.
In my silence, I learn increasingly of my need to protect the wildlands – the places without a broad fingerprint of man - so that my children will have the opportunity to experience their bounty and gifts. So much of what we need is not about what we have .. but about places where we can simply simply hear ourselves. That vision .. still remains.
Catharine Cooper loves and works to protect wild places. She can be reached at email@example.com or 949 497 5081.
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