I walk with my head down. I’ve only recently become cognizant of this behaviour after walking into several objects that happen to be at eye level: Tree branches, open windows, truck wing mirrors. When I first noticed it, I thought, “Oh, that’s really bad for your posture, and think of all the things you’re missing in the world while your eyes are looking at the road in front of you. Look up, Nats. Be forward thinking!” And I tried to obey. I did. But even while walking around the farm, where beautiful landscape and intricate details abound, I’d find myself looking at the ground in front of me. It’s a reflex; I can’t stop.
I knew someone who kept a white noise machine in her children’s room. It horrified me. Purposely creating an environment that is drowning in white noise is tantamount to torture. It was shocking for me to learn that other humans enjoy white noise. Shocking.
On a family holiday in Zimbabwe, when I was about seventeen, I had a moment so surreal, so perfect, that it has stayed with me ever since. I was on a boat with several young people out on the Kariba Dam. It was late afternoon. We were supposed to be fishing, but nobody was moving at all. In a single moment, every sound disappeared. There was no insect noise (we were too far from the shore), there was no human noise, I couldn’t hear anyone breathing. There was nothing. Just silence. I could hear silence. It wasn’t the absence of noise that affected me so much, I hadn’t gone deaf, it was the overwhelming presence of silence. I was completely enraptured by it. And then terrified, and in true, Natalie form, I opened my mouth and said, “Ahhhh”. My sister gave me a scathing look of embarrassment, and the farmer boys moved on. The moment was gone. Except it wasn’t, I have held it capture in my mind for many years.
Anxiety has a way of bringing out the reflex nature in humans. Some people, I’ve witnessed, get very talkative— they need to talk out their stress. Others start fidgeting. Their legs shake, they get eye twitches, their bodies seem to need kinetic energy in order to process stress. I need to get small. And quiet. The more anxious I get the less I want to communicate, and the more I need to be still. Sitting curled up by myself in a dark place this is my healing space. It seems counter intuitive. Be physical, people say, exercise will release endorphins. Don’t sit still! But I can’t. Eliminating stress equals being alone, being still, being compact. It has taken me a lifetime to realise that.
The problem with ‘Little Stress Management’ is that life requires the complete opposite from me. Be communicative, be busy, be big! It’s the other half of me, the Yin to my Yang. It’s my personality paradox. Everyone has it, even if they are not aware of it.
I walk with my head down when I’m processing a thought. I process A LOT. When my head is up, the sluice gate to my think tank is shut, and I am accumulating information. I can’t seem to accumulate and process at the same time. It’s a problem.
Often when someone is talking to me, I realise that they can see I’m not following the conversation. In fact, what has happened is that they have dropped a fantastic word, or idea, or problem, and just carried on speaking?! My sluice gate has involuntarily slammed shut, and my inner voice if frantically swimming around the think tank trying to store the information for future processing. It’s not that I’m not listening, Friend, it’s that I’m listening too hard! Be patient with me, please.
The earth has it’s own white noise: the sun rises, crickets sing, leaves ‘tay in da win’. (Let’s see who gets that reference) It will always be there. It’s beautiful. And I need to learn to appreciate it. Background noise is not torturing. It can actually be beautiful.
So what do white noise and head space, anxiety and listening have to do with missed moments? I realise this blog is fragmented and disjointed. Forgive me… I’m processing out loud today.
I think I have been searching for silence all these long years: My downward turned head, the repulsion of white noise, the reflexive anti-stress mechanisms. I missed a moment back in that little boat on Kariba Dam.
There are moments, very few and far, far between, when the earth and everything in it stops to listen. And silence is spellbinding. She is palpating with information.
The next time pure silence comes around, I’ll be ready for her. I won’t be afraid. I’ll Listen well.