I've been out in the countryside this week, at a nice, quiet little retreat house. Quiet! Oh, how sweet the silence! "Silence" here meaning singing blackbirds (sounds like an American robin), larks, finches, cuckoos, and a lot of others I haven't learned yet, and the breeze in the borders, and the droning of bees, and the skittering of geckos and rat squirrels (not rats ... rat squirrels. It's an Andalucían thing) across the roof tiles.
I feel myself relaxing in the quietness, and tensing up against noise. I went hiking this morning, for the 3rd time this week along the same route, and found that Saturday is apparently everybody's day for weed-whacking, ugh. But in between, when it's quiet again, I just find myself opening up like a flower. Like a sprout unfolding from its seed. Softening up like a stiff sponge in water.
I don't know about this noise sensitivity ... I don't know if I've always had it, or if it's grown in me. It's only been in recent years that I have lived in a very quiet place, out in the woods, away from traffic and neighbors, to really notice the contrast. And I guess I am a lot more aware now generally, of the effects on my mood of things like noise, the weather, how much sleep I get, or the mood of other people around me. Then again, maybe I am more sensitive than I used to be, too.
The fact is that noise stresses me out. I start to put up an inner wall against it. I distract myself with nothings, I spin my wheels, and my tolerance for other stressors goes down. I get irritable, and less able to focus on things like reading and working toward my goals. It's the opposite of the opening and softening I experience in silence.
Silence is the 2nd of my three vows, the other two being Solitude and Simplicity. I've been wondering whether silence supports my prayer life, my relationship with God. I want to say yes, the walls I put up against sensory overload also block connection with God. It makes sense, but I'm not sure it's actually true.... In fact, it might be the opposite, that stress sometimes intensifies my openness in prayer, somehow unblocks my sense of the palpable presence of God. And then again, maybe both sensory and spiritual sensitivities are part of the whole hypersensitive package.
As I've said here before, I came to believe in God as a young adult in a 12-step program (same steps as Alcoholics Anonymous) for dealing with childhood & adolescent trauma. The 11th step says, "sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood him, asking only for knowledge of his will for us and the power to carry that out." And so, I always assumed that "conscious contact with God" was a thing available to anyone. Anyone, that is, who had fallen hard enough to know the desperate need of God that is the basis for the 1st step, the admission of powerlessness.
But maybe it's the same fragility, the same hypersensitivity, that predisposes some and not others to that kind of hard fall. The same that drives some of us to self-medicate with drugs, alcohol, or anything else that can (however temporarily and imperfectly) numb the intensity of our experience in the world. The difference between those who develop PTSD out of a traumatic experience and those who don't. And those who emerge from the wreckage of that hard fall into "conscious contact with God."
I accept the trade-off, with gratitude. Nothing in this world, no pain nor grief nor trauma that I've ever experienced, is heavier than God is light. The world is too loud, too bright, too itchy, too exhausting and stressful -- I'll take it, if that's the cost of the indescribable bliss that comes, sometimes, in prayer. I am blessed.
+++ PEACE +++