I love silence. It’s hard to come by, given that the inside of my head can spew things on so many different levels, but it can be had. I have a process I’ve thought of as “stopping time,” but I could also call it “claiming silence.” It has ranged from my process of close communication with a wild mama raccoon over a span of eight years to the ecstatic out-of-time hours I have spent under a rocky overhang on Brittany’s Belle Isle, eyes closed, listening like a musician to the infinite variety of voices in the waves. Within the cocoon of Covid isolation, I have had even more opportunity to delve into the infinite richness of silence and to begin to understand its role in connection to everything.
When I think of silence, I’m not imagining a situation where there is zero sound. For starters, that would almost demand a sensory isolation tank, and I haven’t saved enough allowance to afford that. For me, silence is an attitude. It’s being in the presence of something or someone without doing anything other than sensing as deeply as possible what or who is there, on its own terms. In the January issue of The Sun magazine there is an remarkable interview with Douglas Christie, who is a professor of theological studies at a Jesuit school in Los Angeles. The main focus in this piece is silence and contemplation, the role they play in bringing connection with everything that is, and their deep roots in the desert.
That mama raccoon wasn’t begging food, she was just standing up by the glass of the sliding door to the patio, nearly touching it with her nose. Inside, moving very slowly, I lowered myself to hands and knees and brought my own nose close to the glass. We looked into each other’s eyes for a long time, and some nights after that we’d do it again. Once it had just been raining lightly, and she had one jewel-like drop on her forehead where her third eye would be. It seemed right. It connected my own world with hers for that time.
Earlier this year a huge scarlet amanita mushroom, just one, popped up right beside the steps up to our house’s walkway. I sat and looked at it quietly for a while, and wondered how far its connections went, and who else was on the line. I loved thinking of that buried webwork. The waves at the beach cave on Belle Isle are kin to the water that entrances me every Sunday at our Sonoma County beach, and knowing that goes a long way toward easing the regret I feel at having likely already said farewell for all time to Belle Isle and the wooded walks around Carnac’s great stones.
When I’m on my knees saying hello to an earthworm that’s been disturbed in my garlic bed, it makes me grin and appreciate the lowly industry of the little bugger. I laugh at thinking of him as a small soft version of the redwood root that wriggles under the bricks of our walkway, pushing them up to court a stubbed toe. All these things would escape my notice without the silence that allows the hum of connection to be felt.
I’m glad I don’t thirst for power. A clenched fist isn’t useful for a caress. The silence of unarmed village Ukranians standing quietly in front of a stopped Russian convoy is much louder than the noise of a screaming mob. Tomorrow, their silence may be ruptured by cluster bombs, their breath sucked out by thermobaric weapons, but in this moment, there is power. The gigantic truck’s wheel rolled three inches forward, then three inches back, and I felt sorry for the guys inside. They signed up expecting wham-bam, and got stopped by silence.