External silence can be the doorway to inner silence.” – Ram Dass

On a recent lazy holiday morning when it was still dark at wake up time, my kids and I were snuggled in my bed watching a lightning storm out the windows. Lightning is fairly uncommon in our area so Miss O was chattering away about it in her typical 7-year-old patter until three-year-old Mr. D said, “Ssshhh, I can’t see.

As someone who relishes and recharges from quiet, I really appreciated that sentiment.

The past few days my kids and I have been staying at an AirBnB on the Washington coast. There is no city noise here – no car doors slamming or car alarms going off, no hazy road noise, not the occasional siren and no one talking on the sidewalk. It’s just the roar of the ocean. It’s like a complete vacation for my ears from the noises I’m not aware of hearing until I get away to this entirely different soundscape.

In an On Being podcast, Gordon Hempton, an acoustic ecologist, called quiet a “think tank of the soul.” In her introduction of him, Krista Tippett mentions that he’s gone out to record dawn breaking across six continents. She goes on to say, “He defines real quiet as presence — not an absence of sound but an absence of noise.

I was so taken by the work of Gordon Hempton that I’ve written about his work before in a post titled Silence. One of the points he made that really stuck with me is that our ears are always on. That’s why alarm clocks work – because even though our brains are sleeping, our ears never do.

Gordon Hempton told Krista Tippett how he became dedicated to being a listener:

“I grew up thinking that I was a listener. Except on my way to graduate school one time I simply pulled over — making the long drive from Seattle, Washington, to Madison, Wisconsin — pulled over in a field to get some rest. And a thunderstorm rolled over me. And while I lay there, and the thunder echoed through the valley, and I could hear the crickets, I just simply took it all in. And it’s then I realized that I had a whole wrong impression of what it meant to actually listen. I thought that listening meant focusing my attention on what was important even before I had heard it, and screening out everything that was unimportant, even before I had heard it. In other words, I had been paying a lot of attention to people, but I really hadn’t been paying a lot of attention to what is all around me. And it was on that day that I really discovered what it means to be alive as another animal in a natural place.”

Gorgon Hempton on the On Being podcast

To the wonderful perspective provided by Gordon Hempton, I would add that it’s only when I sit in silence that I can hear my inner voice. It’s wonderful break when I get away from the city noise and find outer quiet but I still have to work at cultivating my inner quiet. When I manage that, usually by sitting in meditation, even for just a few minutes (or seconds sometimes), I’m rewarded with a renewal of spirit and ability to listen to myself.

So I echo Mr. D’s sentiment in all it’s different meanings, “Ssshhh, I can’t see.

(featured photo from Pexels)


44 thoughts on “Quietude

  1. An important topic. Young people today have a diminished experience of quiet. So do adults when we compare ourselves to the great musicians of times past. Listen for birdsong in Beethoven, Mahler, and Respighi. By comparison we live in a din. What might this brutalization of one of our senses be doing to us? Surely, not anything good. When everyone lost electrical power where I live many years ago, I could sit quietly and hear the beat of my heart.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Wow, what a powerful image you’ve painted in hearing the beat of your heart. And in finding birdsong in great music. Treasured moments of quiet, stillness and listening. May we all have more of those! Thanks, Dr. Stein!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I like the definition of real quiet as presence. I’ve been reminded of that when caught in the rain and that feeling of walking with raindrops falling on you from the sky. Thanks for the reminder to tune into inner quiet.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. A vacation for the ears – love that! And how fascinating about why we hear alarm clocks! Beyond the interesting post though, you’ve also hit on something that’s been on my mind when you talked about the inner quiet. My brain feels cluttered a lot these days because I’m running all over the place – and not taking time to just be. Ryan Holiday wrote a fantastic book called “Stillness is the Key,” talking about how to cultivate that inner stillness. I’ve been going to go back through it, and you just gave me a nudge to do that. Thank you so much, Wynne. Your post was just what the doctor ordered! 🤍

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That sounds like a great book, Kendra. I’m going to have to check it out. And I agree, my brain feels cluttered when I’m running around. There is something so restorative about being quiet and still. Thanks for the lovely comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. So lovely — the Gordon H. snippet about pulling over, letting the thunderstorm roll over him and his enhanced sense of the world enveloping him…available only because he was quiet, still. Love that. And, of course, who can deny that Mr. D. is right on-point? Ssshhh…I can’t see? That’s beautiful and I’m right there with him. xo, Wynne! ❤

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I love the image of Gordon’s thunderstorm too! He goes on to describe how that experience at age 27 changed his life – because he went on to figure out how to be an acoustic ecologist.

      And yes, Mr. D is right on point – but can hold his own in creating noise too. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Wow, I love how you were able to tie to the innocent wisdom of your child to the acoustic ecologist. It’s truly a challenge to find quietude, so it’s a gift to find those small–or more extended–moments where the outer silence can allow us to turn inward. So lovely!! ❤

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  6. This resonates in a way I can’t even express. And as a person with hearing loss, I am even more in tune with the inner silence than I thought.

    Your toddler has it spot on. I too can see better in silence, and not just physically seeing, but gaining mental clarity. You know what I mean, right? When you gain clarity and are able to “see” a situation better because you obtained that clarity in silence… That’s what I mean by “seeing”. 😊

    Wonderful post Wynne, as always. ❣️

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I totally know what you mean, Claudette. You put it so well. And I’m also struck by your comment about the impact of hearing loss. What an interesting perspective!! Thanks for reading and commenting, my friend!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. “Quietude” . . . an all to rare commodity in today’s busy, hectic, tragically divided society Wynne.

    “Ssshhh, I can’t see” . .. so precious that a child can tune out this world’s chaotic cacaphony and ‘see’ the solace and wonder of Quietude’s silence amidst the storm.

    Mr D is you little Elijah Wynne, who the tumult this world’s winds, earthquakes, and fires cannot deter his hearing God whisper through the lightning in “a still small voice” – 1 Kings 19:11-13 . . . methinks he may someday follow in your Dad’s footsteps☺️

    Thanks for brightening my day with this post lady . . . Happy New Year!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Mr D is one astute guy! I surround myself in silence most of the time at home but am still aware of the normal sounds of the world that surround me. I often think that I’ve learned to tune those things out, and maybe I have because I do notice when something is different, or a little off in the normal routine. I would call those moments my noise awareness. I think you know by now that my zen place, my inner listening place is out among nature where I can hear nothing but myself. On a side note- is there not a place officially recognized on the peninsula- I believe in Olympic NP- that is deemed the quietest place on earth? Have you heard that story?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m with you on the zen place of nature. It’s so filled with renewal for me!

      It’s funny that you say that about Olympic NP. Gordon Hempton has done a lot of recordings out there – like the recording the inside of a spruce log. Now that you say it, it sounds like I’ve heard it as the quietest place on earth too but googling it didn’t provide an easy answer. One blog included interior spaces which to me doesn’t match what I was thinking.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yes, that’s who I was thinking about. The Hoh Rainforest is on his list of the quietest places on earth. I believe I saw him on a local newsy show. Thanks for the reminder Wynne!

        Liked by 2 people

  9. This is gold, pure gold, especially the insight from a child that our ears and eyes are somehow connected. The clarity of an experience is much improved for me when there is a span of silence to process and glean. The older I get the more I appreciate the quiet. How sad is that? I remember my parents always scolding us for unnecessary noise! Now I totally understand. Your meditation practice is inspiring me. I’ve always thought needed a set amount of time or I wouldn’t even try to meditate. I’m seeing the value of spending three minutes in silent contemplation when that’s all the space I can find. Great post, thanks Wynne, hugs, C

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It seems like this post and your home alone post share a little bit of that desire for that uninterrupted quiet. I agree that I appreciate it more the older that I get.

      And how interesting that speed bump that we put in our way with “not enough time to get it right.” Like if I don’t have time to do 50 pushups (not like I could), I better not do one. The aphorism, “Don’t let perfection be the enemy of good” comes to mind.

      Thanks for the kind words and lovely comment, Cheryl!

      Liked by 2 people

  10. Ah, beautiful silence! I’m spoiled by living in a place that is totally silent 99% of the time, free of the chatter of TV, and the sound of music (except for the ringing in my ears). I cherish Mr. D’s comment, “Shhh. I can’t see.” Priceless and profound!

    Liked by 2 people

  11. I’m loving this post! Being in tune to the sounds and sights in nature, it is the best soother for a frazzled mind! One of the reasons I love taking walks in nature, I get to focus all my senses onto the sights, the sounds and the smells each area holds. I love the smells of the forest after the rain, as I do the smells of the desert! Wishing you a wonderful New Year, full of things that amaze and inspire wonder!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you so much! Yes, one of the big reasons I love getting out in nature are the smells. Just not the same at the gym!!

        Liked by 1 person

  12. This is a beautiful passage you shared on this final day and evening of 2022. I’m so glad to hear you are on a nice getaway with your kids. I hope you enjoy it and look to seeing the photos.

    I will think about listening more to my surroundings like an animal in nature and take it all in. Just the thought of it sounds so exciting and grounding.

    All the best to you and your kids in the new year!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. “External silence can be the doorway to inner silence.” – Ram Dass . . . couldn’t agree more with this quote! I’m pleased you had this special time with your children. Wishing you many more of these moments with your sweet children in 2023!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Mr. D is brilliant. And I hear you. (No pun intended.) I relish the quiet, except I usually fill it with music when I can. (Guilty sidelong glance.) “record dawn breaking across six continents”–my gosh that sounds fabulous. (Again, no pun intended.) Have you read the book Quiet by Susan Cain? It’s a great one.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. What a wonderful post, your last paragraph captures my sentiments. I often ask clients to describe active listening. They will list a plethora of things, but very few will list breathing, hand wring, or stretching, all which have sound and often telling in how one is self-regulating…


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