When Nature Overtook Silence

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One of the things I was afraid of when going for the Art of Joyfulness-Mindful Living Excellence Retreat from 3rd to 5th January 2014 was the requirement that we must be silent and quiet at all times. After all, wasn’t solitary confinement a form of corporeal punishment?

When I mentioned it to our retreat leader, he said something along the lines of, “You may be quiet ‘outside’, but I assure you there’s lots of talking going on inside.” I didn’t dare admit that what he said frightened me even more. After all, there were thoughts, feelings and emotions that I’d buried deep in my psyche and the last thing I wanted was to think about/rehash/analyse them again. Frankly, I was bored with them.

As expected, during that first night, after participating in the ‘letting go’ session, all those buried emotions did emerge. Mercifully, the next session was sleep or what was referred to as ‘Noble Silence Retreat Till Morning’. We would deal with all this again the next morning.

However, morning brought something altogether different. While others were meditating, I read the manual and chanced on something called the ‘Pleasure Walk’:

Take a 15-30 minute pleasure walk outside. … The goal of the walk is to notice as many pleasurable things as possible, slowly, one after another. Use all your senses – sight, smell, sound, touch … maybe even taste. How many happy, beautiful or inspiring things can you notice while you’re walking? Do you enjoy the fresh air, the warm sun, a beautiful leaf, the shape of a stone, a smiling face, the song of a bird, the feeling of the earth under your feet? When you find something delightful or pleasant, let yourself go into it. Really enjoy it. Feel a tender leaf or the texture of a stick, if you like. Give yourself over to the experience as if it were the only think that existed in the world. And when you are ready to discover something new, let it go and wait until you discover something else that is pleasurable and delightful to you.’

At that moment, I felt that this was precisely the kind of experience I was looking for at the time. The moment the first session of the day was over, I walked along the path near the periphery of the resort. While on my little journey of discovery, I came across something so beautiful and here are two photos of:

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It was simply lovely – an orchid flowering inside another orchid. From the depths of beauty came something so precious.

By lunch, there was something new bothering me. Was it possible to find absolute silence in the mind? I’ve read of philosophers who say that absolute silence is that pause in time between one thought and another. But what did it sound like? What did absolute silence sound like? In the afternoon, when we were given time for a ‘Private Retreat’ I went in search of answers.

I knew that to find them, I would have to let go of all the sounds that were still in my thoughts, which was no easy task. Here’s an example of what my thought process was like:

That family shouting must be Chinese. Ah-ha! They are speaking Hokkien. Why can’t they speak softly? Does the whole world need to know what they’re saying? Let me see. Maybe I can hear what they’re saying. Maybe I can understand them. Hold on. They are laughing. They’re happy. Why are you criticising them? Is it because you’re unhappy? Let it go, Aneeta. Let it go.
What’s that other woman saying?
“If I fall now, I’ll role all the way down the hill.”
Stupid. You’re not going to roll all the way down Gunung Jerai. You can’t. There’s a periphery fence. You’ll just get stuck in the fence. For God’s sake.
Don’t turn around Aneeta and look at her. Look ahead.
Let it go, Aneeta. Let it go. Look for that silence.

Finally, I came to a place where I heard no more sounds of humans talking. I didn’t find my silence, though. I still heard things. What did the book say? Give yourself over to the experience as if it were the only thing that existed in the world.

I stood still and absorbed every sound that I possibly could. The only words I could use to describe it were these: Nature had overtaken silence.

It was unbelievably noisy. Although, I couldn’t see the stream, I heard the water flowing. The birds appeared missing from the trees, but I heard them ‘talking’ to each other. What on earth could they possibly have to say to each other? Were they sharing the day’s gossip? Were they scolding each other? Were they looking for their mate?

If we put words into their mouths, what could they be saying?

Could it be this: “Did you hear about Mrs. Yellow Bird? She’s going to have new chicks?” or “I can’t stand that Magpie. Idiot!” or “Oooo, did you see that new eagle, Mr. Big Wings? He’s lovely.”

I was startled each time giant leaves hit against barks of ancient trees.

Even the clouds didn’t move silently. I swear, I could hear that infinitesimal sound as they grazed my cheek.

While I am no philosopher, this experience taught me that to go in search of silence is a fool’s errand. You can spend your whole life searching for it and still find nothing. Instead, if you stop for a minute, you’ll find that Nature will take over and fill your soul with all Her wonderful gifts. You just need to open your heart to Her.

This was precisely what Marc Anderson found when he submitted a recording called ‘Dusk by the Frog Pond’ to a competition and won first prize. Here’s a 2 minute recording of the natural sounds that Anderson recorded from Kubah National Park in Kuching, Sarawak.

Have you ever let Nature take over in your life? What happened?

By Aneeta Sundararaj


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