I was hiking down the road--naked winter trees on one side, green pine on the other. The wind whispered through the pine needles. It stopped blowing and silence descended. My mind began to wonder about book someone gave me several years ago. "One Square Inch of Silence: One Man’s Search for Natural Silence in a Noisy World" is one man's journey to discover places in the United States where there is no sounds that are not made by nature. Gordon Hempton, a sound recording specialist who lives near Olympic National Park travels from Washington State to Washington DC measuring the amount of noise created by human machines. He believed that if he could find just one square inch of silence, it could grow to permeate a larger area the way noise spreads to swallow silence.
Fascinated as I was by the book, today I was thinking about how to find a square inch of silence in my own mind. Sometimes the noise gets out of hand. The voices of friends and family, of culture and media, of magazines and blogs swirls around in my head, sometimes chasing each other in circles. I just want to slow it down, to notice something that might sedate the sometimes cacophonous noise.
Today I found a couple of places where I discovered the demands of the voices was lost in silent wonder. The first was sitting early in the morning doing centering prayer. During the past 20 years I have taken time each day to quiet the noise by placing a stillness in the midst of my mind. It is a discipline because the wordy world has a way of turning up the volume. But, patiently I keep creating a "nothing" space and resting a moment at a time in the square inch of silence. I do this with the hope that that inch will grow and come to visit me in the mind's noise throughout the day so that from time to time, it's quiet enough to hear my soul sing.
And the other place it happened was as I walked through the park, I kept coming upon clusters of deer. I would round a bend and there seven deer were grazing. I stopped to stare, transfixed in awe as they stared back. Then I would start walking again, the noise in my mind beginning again and suddenly off in a clearing were four deer staring at me. My mind quieted in the sheer delight of the surprising life around me. I saw thirty deer on that hike.
Most of the time my mind chases ideas and thoughts. But I continue to seek one square inch of silence hoping that it will help modulate the volume and I can also hear my quiet thoughts.