Silence is essential. We need silence,
just as much as we need air, just as much
as plants need light. If our minds are crowded with
words and thoughts, there is no place for us.
~ Thich Nhat Hanh
Every so often I'll call my best friend in Ontario and say, "Wanna go for a long walk and talk? I could use about six hours!"
And she laughs and says she'll meet me at the corner.
Then we sigh and wish it were so.
This is what I miss about living so far away from my very best friends: doing the Walk-and-Talk. I'd started this with my then-new friend Shelagh just before I moved to Nova Scotia, and now a morning Walk-and-Talk is one of the reasons I like to stay at her house when I visit Ontario.
Walking alone over the field and up the road and through the woods doesn't stop me from having a Walk-and-Talk, however; I simply talk to myself. That is just as effective, albeit without the good advice. But hearing myself speak the problems that are dogging me, and hearing the one-sided conversations I'm having with other people helps me realize what I want to do, and what I shouldn't be doing -- and also how brilliant and eloquent I am when I am walking alone in the woods.
Also: this helps me sleep.
I came up with this theory this past week when, after the day of ice pellets on Sunday, there was a great base for walking. During the dark days of winter, I hit the treadmill almost every day because, without sidewalks and streetlights and our wonky weather, it's simply not as easy just to head outside for a walk. Honestly, I get tired of walking in mud.
So it's been a treat this past week to walk every day, twice a day, taking full advantage of the concrete-like walking base under a light covering of snow to go for long walks into the woods.
Since Monday, I've been sleeping through the night. I haven't been waking up at two o'clock in the morning to worry about giving up writing and getting a job, to think back over all the bad decisions I made in my 20s, to berate myself for not planning better, being braver, going back to school sooner.
That's because I'm doing all that while I walk. Because I've provided time during the day to do that kind of thinking.
When I'm on the treadmill, I'm watching TV, and wearing headphones so other people's voices are close and loud. I can't think. But when I walk outside by myself, I'm walking in silence. I'm able to think because there are no voices in my head. And that thinking is kinder and more productive than the middle-of-the-night thinking; I'm not as hard on myself, and can pull out of the negative spiral with plans and reminders -- finish this project THEN worry -- you have six months THEN you can deal with that -- The gut-clenching worries dissipate in the daylight, thank goodness. The work seems possible, the goals seem achievable.
The best part is by the time I turn around to head home, I'm done thinking. I'm doing yacking. The Walk-and-Talk becomes just a walk, and it's quiet inside my head as well as all around me.
Funny, so often we don't want to walk in silence, we don't want to fill that space with our thoughts but now I know how essential it is -- we need to face our worries, we need to talk ourselves down from the DEFCON 1 of fretting about the future. We need the cold fresh air and the distraction of snowflakes and the beauty of bare tree limbs against a slate grey sky.
Sleeping through the night makes facing the work (and the worries, let's be honest, they're always there) much easier. Tossing and turning solves nothing; doing the work gets me closer to my goals.
I am grateful to have experienced this -- to have been reminded of something I didn't realize I was missing. Grateful to have had several good night's sleep. Grateful to have completed another draft of the manuscript about my father's life and sent it off to the printer to be ready for another go-around next week.
Grateful to have had a week of breathing in the silence and breathing out the thoughts. Grateful for lungs full of snowflakes and a mind empty of useless information.