At the beginning of the hike and at certain points throughout, there was a lot of noise. One kid wanted a snack, and when one kid wants a snack, all the kids want a snack. Another wanted a drink of water, and ditto. Still another wanted a cold drink of water, a neat trick if I could have managed it after the water bottles had sat in the warm trunk for 45 minutes, and then there was the child who was not a fan of how very outdoorsy the outdoors was and wanted us all to know this. And of course, the toddler, who was pretty sure that stepping on the ground was tantamount to stepping on lava, and one should never step on lava.
So noise there was, sure. But a whole lot of the time, there was silence.
Not total silence. We heard the crunch of the soles of our sneakers against the winter-toughened grass, the high, harsh call of a bird of prey gliding overhead. We saw the old stone well, dug many centuries ago, and we heard the delayed “plunk” of the stone we tossed inside to test its depth. We heard the sound of our own breathing and felt the pull-push of the cool wind against our warm cheeks. We saw the sky go from blue to a worrying gray and then back to blue again.
And when we got home—even though it was only hours to Shabbos and everyone had to shake the sand from their shoes, shower, and do the myriad other tasks that have to be done before candle-lighting even when you think you’ve already taken care of everything—we all agreed that we felt it. The silence. We felt it in the way our joints were a little looser, our head space a little clearer. We felt it in the way we smiled more easily at each other.
We had somehow brought the silence back home with us.
Silence. If you have forgotten what that is, here’s an exercise for you: Go to the bathroom and close the door behind you. (If you’re a mother, lock it.) Now put your hands over your ears.
It’s silence. And while some of us welcome it, for others the mere thought of sitting in silence is enough to make their skin crawl. But that doesn’t mean they don’t need it anyway. How much you value silence is due at least in part to where you fall on the introvert-extrovert scale. But whether you love being home or you revel in a crowded room, silence can and should be a very important part of your day.
Amy Sullivan, PsyD, ABPP, explains that silence gives us opportunity for self-reflection. It cultivates mindfulness, which is a non-judgmental recognition and appreciation of the moment we find ourselves in.
When we’re preoccupied, we don’t really notice our emotional state or what’s going on in the back of our minds. With quiet time, in the quiet of our own minds, we can start to pay closer attention to the things that get pushed aside but really do matter.
And having quiet time has many physical benefits.
“When we’re frazzled, our fight-or-flight response is on overload, causing a host of problems,” says Dr. Sullivan. “We can use calm, quiet moments to tap into a different part of the nervous system that helps shut down our bodies’ physical response to stress.”
Simply spacing out helps you rest, relax and recharge. (And it’s an alliteration, so you know it’s true.) Being quiet can help lower blood pressure, decrease your heart rate, steady your breathing, reduce muscle tension and increase focus and cognition.
Seriously, if silence were a pill, it would be the most prescribed one in the history of modern medicine. It’s literally magic.
Dr. Sullivan agrees. “Learning to sit still and self-reflect is one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves and our kids.”
Several times a year, I teach a few classes to seminary girls. One of the classes is about acceptance, both of the situation you find yourself in and of yourself. Knowing that Americans in general tend to have a tough time with silence (FOMO runs deep in the American psyche, and the average American tends to turn to external stimuli, such as a device, for distraction rather than experience the discomfort of thoughts and feelings), I talk to them about the need for quiet.
“In order to find out who you really are, you need quiet,” I say.
And then I am quiet.