The sounds of the silence were deafening…
On the last few days of 2017, I went winter camping. It was an epic way to sign off 2017 and welcome in a new year with a fresh start. The morning departure was early, frosty and cold; being on the road and travelling before the sun decided to wake up and shine her rays. The roads were slick and dusted with snow from a winter storm the night before. Heading further North, the light dusting of snow on the roads turned into packed snow and ice. The journey was slow, but beautiful, taking in the bright white snow on the trees and the sunlight dancing off of the ice crystals creating a surrealness that was breathtaking. After parking the car, and gearing up with backpacks and snowshoes, we set off on a cold, but stunning 4 km snowshoe hike in to our chosen camping area. The majority of the hike in was on a trail freshly covered with snow, however, the final 30 minutes of our snowshoe involved creating a fresh trail across a frozen lake. I remember feeling overwhelmed by the surroundings. The frozen lake was supporting several feet of fresh snow, the sun was shining high in the sky and brightly reflecting off of the snow creating a disco ball effect in the valley enclosed by towering mountains.
After setting up camp, consuming some some hot coffee and reconstituted freeze-dried food, the sun had already disappeared behind the mountains, leaving a dusky feel. There was nothing and no one around. The bears were hibernating, there were no birds chirping and there was literally, not another living soul for miles. Surprisingly, there was also no wind. There was complete stillness. Silence. Retreating to the tent and down-filled sleeping bags for warmth and a whole lot of tent selfies (don’t judge!). The tent could only be described as squishy. Technically a one (and a half) man tent, there were two of us jammed in there with our backpacks, sleeping pads, sleeping bags and piles of warm clothing. The closeness inside the tent encouraged more warmth. Eventually, the endless chatter and laughter died down and we drifted off to sleep, head to toe bundled in down-filled garments and completed with our wool toques pulled down over our heads and ears.
I’m claustrophobic. There were many different ways I attempted to write that, but decided to just be blunt. It’s the truth. The thought of being stuck in an elevator provokes bouts of anxiety. I could not even fathom going “caving” or, as I saw on ‘Wentworth,’ crawling through the ducting. The thought of these are panic-inducing let alone actually carrying them out, that thought makes my palms sweat. At some point during my night’s sleep, I woke up and I was uncomfortable. I was actually too hot, which is not that surprising given all of my layers, and my mummy bag was too constricting and did I mention the tent was squishy? I needed out of the tent and in a hurry. I felt the panic rising in my chest, I fought to keep it at bay, as I got out of my sleeping bag and unzipped the tent. I was quite literally outside as soon as I heard the first sounds of the zipper opening.
It was actually warmer outside than I expected. The moon was only one day away from a full super moon. It was large and low and lit up the sky as if it were emulating the sun. And it was quiet. Complete. Total. Silence. The silence was deafening and it was disconcerting. I couldn’t remember the last time I had heard…nothing. The silence exuded a sense of both expansiveness and closeness. And I wondered how I went so long without enjoying the pleasure and pain of hearing nothing?
We are constantly bombarded with information and “noise” at an alarming rate. The buzz of electronics, images, words, Netflix, social media, texts, sirens, yelling, partying, people, city sounds…it’s *almost* inescapable. We spend hundreds of dollars on noise cancelling earphones, and even more money on yoga retreats and “getting away from it all”. As a nurse, we are taught of Florence Nightingale right out of the gate. In 1859 she said, “unnecessary noise is the most cruel absence of care which can be inflicted on either the sick or the well”. It is commonly known that hospitals are noisy and that noise impacts the healing of patients. But it impacts all of us outside of the hospital as well. The physical effects of noise accumulate. In 2011 the World Health Organization released a report that referred to noise pollution as a “modern plague” with severe adverse effects on health, especially on stress, tension and blood pressure. Physiologically, sound waves vibrate the bones of the ear, which makes its way into the inner ear, this is how we hear, through vibrations and movement. These vibrations are transmitted into electrical signals which our body reacts to, even in deep sleep. This will cause stress hormones, such as cortisol, to be released. This is also a contributing factor as to why you want to throw your partying, twenty-something upstairs neighbour off the balcony at 3 am on a Tuesday morning.
Much of the time, I don’t notice the noise, but when it is missing, the silence is amplified by the contrast. We need times of silence. We need to remove the constant stimulation (silence and lack of stimulation actually contributes to neurogenesis – regrowing brain cells!). How we achieve that is a different matter. I have achieved this by hiking to where there are no people, I have achieved this by the sensory deprivation “float” tanks – although see the paragraph above about claustrophobia! What is important is that it is achieved, in some way, for some amount of time.
Going back to standing outside, in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by snow and no other living creatures, lit by the moonlight. It was quiet. It was silent. The only noise was the noise in my head. My mind whirring around at a million miles per hour, the mind not as easily quieted. The mind that is bombarded constantly with images, sounds, words, “noise”, is not easily settled. The only thing I could hear was my voice, in my mind, after all, wherever you go, there you are.
To Be Continued…