Sometimes I need the crunch of snow underfoot. Sometimes I need to experience the low-slung shadow cast by my figure in the late afternoon winter sun, or the thick gray sparkle of an icicle-covered rock.
Snow brings that pause. That inevitable sheet of quiet, muffling all the regular sounds (even if it is fleeting, before the snow plows rumble by and the tv gets turned on), that snow-blanket momentarily turns down the volume of the world.
It wasn’t quiet much when I was a kid. There were 7 of us total (if you count my parents) and for the first 8 years of my life, we lived in a 4-room house. Then we moved-on-up and lived in a 4-bedroom house, roomier, but it still required doubling up of siblings, and we still had just one main area of the house where we all gathered to live life: play games, do homework, fight with each other, eat, listen to my mom do the dishes (she didn’t implement us helping until I was about 12…it was pretty much too late), watch tv and listen anyone’s radio on in the house, due to the floorboards that comprised our ceiling.
My parents always liked exposed beams. So they exposed ours, leaving our ceilings to be literally just the floorboards above. You could hear everything. Hell, you could see everything in the places where there was a knot in the wood that had fallen out over the years.
We did not live in tiny houses with holes in the floor due to financial constraints, this was just what my parents chose. My mom grew up in rich-in-money, low-in-love family, and my father grew up an only child. They created a very different life for their family: a hustle and bustle, full-to-the-brim, spilling over house, where they could trip over a child or one of the 7 dogs at any moment. We were allowed to do things like roller skate in the house and turn the couch into a jungle gym. There was not a quiet corner available.
One of my favorite places to be as a kid was on top of the hay bales. There was typically a mountain of stacked hay in one area of the barn and I would climb until I found a pleasing nook. I remember being up there with a book and reading away in the warm thick air, pausing to let my eyes follow the constantly floating by dust particles. On a sunny day, it was a hay-palace. I read voraciously there but also loved the space, loved the quiet-aloneness of it, loved how I could be by myself for a time.
When I was kid, I loved to be home alone. It only happened a handful of times but oh, how I cherished it. I remember how the house felt suddenly bigger. Slightly mysterious. How the air and land around me felt more spacious and available. I remember how that opened the same sense in me, gave me a feeling of possibility, made me feel that I could do anything I wanted, but keep it tucked away as a secret if I chose, something that was just mine.
Privacy was not an option when I was a kid—at all. We had one bathroom and it did not have a lock. I have a distinct memory of two of my siblings (no names shall be mentioned) sitting together on the toilet and peeing at the same time. My bedroom until I was 8 was in fact my very own corner in my parent’s bedroom. Privacy and quiet were rare treasures, and I reveled in the small opportunities I found for them.
But somewhere along the way, I lost my knack for it all. I started to dislike the quiet and privacy that comes from being alone. For years, I turned to the tv, the radio, I dialed-a-friend, or I simply plugged in to one of my many many devices and let the constant stimulation act like a static to drown out everything else, to drown out myself.
And how quickly the world has come to shun privacy and aloneness, announcing our every bowel movement (form, color, et cetera) on some form of social media. I could have so easily gone on shunning my quiet and private-thought world, and simply stay plugged in forever. It is now accepted as the norm.
But the problem is, it is not the norm for me, not at the core of my being. I was the 14 year-old for whom my parents finally built an additional bedroom because I needed my own room, needed my own space–for everyone’s sake.
Somewhere along the way, I began plugging my mind into noise and distraction, habitually cutting off from myself. The moment I felt upset, on went something, anything, to avoid my own being.
It only occurred to me recently to ask just what I was (and still am, to a degree) afraid of. The answer is distressing:
I got scared. I got so scared of what I would find in myself. What if I stripped away all the outside crap and I was still a failure on the inside? What if I couldn’t blame anyone or anything else for how I felt or how life was? What if I finally got still enough to listen and I didn’t like what I heard? The fear was enough to leave me breathless, to keep me plugged in for years more.
I have overcome the fear many times in the last several years, through yoga, through meditation, through moments of just being, by walking in the woods, but I still have to force myself to get there, it is still a battle to wage against the machines: the tv, the computer, the ipad, the iphone, the ipod, et cetera. It is habitual for me to plug in.
I have been practicing disconnect for well over a decade. I have been practicing noise for years…years and years. Practicing plugging in instead of connecting to myself; in fact, in place of connecting with myself.
This lack of quiet, the lack of reflection time and the purposeful avoidance of being with myself, being quiet, has created a scream inside of me that may take years to scream out. And I am still scared.
But I am making strides toward quiet. Literally sometimes, like last week when it snowed and I went for a walk by myself. I wanted to call someone, and I admit, that once or twice I did check something on my phone (once I turned it on to record the opening sentences of this blog, so I wouldn’t forget), but for the most part of the hour, I simply walked. I listened to the sound of my sneakers crunching in the snow. I looked at the sparkle the ice and snow created. I listened to the quiet. I felt the spaciousness of it all. And I let myself sink into myself and feel the spaciousness inside—a vast world to be explored, if I continue to allow myself.