by Jill Schroder
Serene solitude supports… sublime silky silence sustains…
I love the soft sibilance of these sounds, which still satisfy me as I bask in the afterglow of my annual camping trip with women friends. This year we were way away from it all, and it was nourishing, rejuvenating, restorative, heart and eye-opening.
I am not a solitude seeking soul. I live in a city and love it – the bustle, the accessibility of so much, so easily. I am privileged to live on the edge, near water, forests, with an expansive view of sky and mountains.
Still, it’s urban, the bang of waste-collecting trucks, the scream of sirens now and then. Commerce is just block away. So when we landed at our campsite in Strathcona Park on Vancouver Island, the change was profound, and I welcomed it. My dear women friends and I cherish the big British Columbian rainforest trees around our tents, we like pumping water from a well, cooking together over a small camp stove, sharing our lives since our last year’s gathering. I began to relax, to sense more deeply, to slow down – one of my big challenges.
But the park was not the final destination. We took a boat ride, on the funky Uchuck III, for over two hours to arrive at Yuquot on Nootka Island. And this is where I experienced how serene solitude supports — where I dropped into the nourishment and sustenance of sublime, silky, silence. We spent four days on this remote island, camping, walking, swimming, simply being. We had a cabin for cooking and our gear, but I, and others, chose to pitch a tent on the beach.
I am still nourished by those nights. Some of my companions didn’t actually find it quiet, because we were on ocean’s edge. But for me, the gentle lapping of waves is soothing like nothing else, and is easily enfolded into my definition of silence. I loved falling asleep to the tide coming and going, steadily rolling the multitude of exquisite small rocks, which were a glistening wet wash in the daytime, and a gentle sweet rocky background to the silence of the northern nights.
I actually spend a lot of time alone. I am not lonely, but neither am I in silence or tapping into the gifts of solitude. My high rise neighbours are nearby, my husband (we’re both retired) is often in the next room. But mostly it’s my thoughts, my communicating and staying in touch, the computer, the phone, my lists and activities that typically keep me connected to the pulse, and out of touch with the support of solitude, the sustenance of silence. So the contrast on Nootka Island was “rad”. (The Urban Dictionary defines rad as “extremely high praise, including a sense of awe”. Fits perfectly!)
We were almost entirely on our own – walking along the ocean, through old forests, marvelling at the moss and rocks, sitting around our beach campfires at night, taking the time to watch a grandiose banana slug make its way across the path, swimming in the crystal lake, dipping into the warm Pacific ocean, I dropped into a different world.
Full disclosure: the small but numerous and pesky mosquitos and the smokey air which rolled in on our second day, emanating from all the fires on the west coast, countered and contrasted to our near perfect time and place. More disclosure: at times I was bored, itchy, dirty, wished for my own bathroom and bed! It was heartening to notice how I was able to hold the “wishing it were different” together with gratitude for the forest, the ocean, and experience the peace of silence and solitude… the depth and the surface, at the same time! Both/And. This is my path of metabolizing, of integration. I love it when I can actually experience it as it unfolds.
Still and thankfully, the deeper experiences persisted: serene solitude supports. My experiences transfer to my life in the city. Memories of silky silence support and sustain my soul — right now. As I write this, I allow myself to feel again the quieting that solitude offers. The dropping, the resting — the relaxing. How cool that this experience is available, if I am present, even at the computer. As I share this, I am in touch with both solitude and silence, alone with only the sound of the clicking keys, the soft, and welcome, rain on the windows. Nourishing, restorative, surprising in subtlety and profundity. Right here, right now.
Can there be too much solitude, silence? Too long in an isolation tank? I expect that would unsettle me. Scare me. Transport me possibly not to peace, presence, and gratitude, but to loneliness and deficiency. As a 7 on the Enneagram scale maybe I’d sink into anxiety and the desperate need for distraction. Happily we have Inquiry as a tool to explore such edges and wrinkles! In fact, I think I’ll play with that at my next inquiry group!
What is your experience of solitude, alone time, silence? How do they nourish, or scare/unsettle you? What do you seek when you head out of your familiar surroundings? Your comments and questions are most welcome. We’re in this together!