The Sights and Sounds of Silence
Recently, I was blessed to find myself on a hike on a morning where the sky was the most amazing color blue and the spring flowers were in full bloom. I was not hiking by myself so I suggested to my hiking partner that we travel back down the trail in silence, practicing a silent, walking meditation, as research studies are showing how beneficial meditation can be to our brains and our bodies. When we reached the end of the trail, we sat together and shared our experiences. We both admitted we had experienced some challenges, yet overall felt a surge of inspiration!
We both found it hard not to respond verbally to other fellow hikers or mountain bikers that offered a friendly exchange of “good morning” or “hi” as we passed along the way. I chose to smile and wave my hand in response to honor my practice of silence while also embracing my intention for my meditation to stay deeply aware of and present to my surroundings. I’m not sure what they thought about my response and I had to trust that they felt the connection through gesture and not words.
Another challenge I experienced was how I began to notice that some of my fellow beings on the trail that morning were quick to anger or were not connected to the experience of others along the way. One fellow traveler expressed his frustration when a hiker did not get out of his way as he was biking up an incline. What the biker did not realize is the young person did not speak English and thus may not have understood his words while sensing his anger. Another group of hikers included a child that got very excited about seeing the butterflies, repeating himself several times to gain the attention of the adults, yet no one responded to him, missing the opportunity to join in the excitement and joy of such a simply pleasure as only seen through the eyes of a child.
And even though I experienced these challenges, I still felt inspired as I recognized my silence was facilitating a deepening of a present moment awareness that can be elusive if we are engaged in a conversation. On the way up the trail with my hiking partner, together we enjoyed hearing and seeing a bird kicking up the dry leaves on the ground presumably looking for food to feed the babies keeping warm beneath the leaves and seeing a solo rabbit hop along the trail with us, seemingly unafraid of our presence as we chatted. However, it wasn’t until the hike down in silence that I began to not only see but hear my own footsteps on the path, to see and feel the sun shining through the leaves of the trees overhead, and to feel the cool breeze on the back of my neck as it played with my hair, sending a shiver down my spine. I too noticed the many colored butterflies gently floating from one beautiful flower blossom to the next. I heard Woodpeckers drumming in the trees above seemingly marking their territory and working to attract a mate.
I even found a sense of peace and calm when hearing the sounds of the other hikers and bikers as they communicated with their friends and family or listened to music from their electronic devices, although others may have found those sounds disturbing in their search for silence out in nature. These sounds actually brought a smile to my face as it reminded me that we all have more in common than we do have differences, and when we take the time to use the two ears we have to listen twice as much as we use the one mouth we have, we might just remember that we are all connected and never alone.
Meditation as a practice to increase body-mind health can be done in a variety of settings and in a variety of manners. I personally have found that simply spending time in nature, allowing my mind’s awareness to rest on what is physically right in front of me, helps me to sort through the overlapping thoughts and conversations in my head when trying to solve a problem, even inspiring me to approach the solution in a more creative way that might have a broader reach. I have also experienced a deeper connection to my “inner knowing” of what I need when societal messages tell me something different. Honoring that connection supports my efforts to remain true to my authentic self, valuing my uniqueness and resisting the urge to conform, while increasing my felt sense of compassion for myself when I make a mistake or fail or judge or criticize as I remember I am a life-long member of this most amazing and wonderful experience of a human BEING!
If my most recent experience with a silent hiking meditation has peaked your curiosity about the benefits of meditation, don’t take my word for it, check out a recent study (by clicking the button below) that demonstrated that meditation activates specific areas of the brain, inducing functional and structural brain changes, supporting the idea that prescribing different meditation techniques could help treat and prevent disease: