“Midnight is another planet! When the clock strikes twelve and if you are asleep, wake up, friend, and discover the beauties of this new planet: Discover the silence; discover the tranquillity; speak to the owls, speak to the moon; greet the hedgehogs and disappear in the midst of the mists!” – Mehmet Murat Ildan

“Night and Day” ©Ruth Armitage, Acrylic on Paper, 20x15”

 

I’m writing from the Sitka Center for Arts and Ecology: an enclave surrounded by massive Sitka Spruce, ferns, moss, wildlife, ocean and river. Instructors are gifted with the opportunity to reside on campus during their workshops, and residencies are held during the winter. Here one finds opportunities to connect with nature, explore the arts and create community.

Having just spent a holiday weekend with family and friends, and spent the days in conversation with students, the peace and quiet is a comforting, thought provoking space to simply be. Solitude can be a tricky thing. Too much can leave me feeling lonely, but not enough can generate claustrophobia and distraction.

 

I am a person who enjoys the luxury of the long thought. Even with a million irons in the proverbial fire, The Sitka Center is a place where silence, solitude and inspiration allow me to focus on my own thoughts. What a gift it is to be able to bask in this blissful silence. Recently I received a set of noise cancelling headphones as a gift. It surprised me how much background noise I missed when wearing them. I didn’t even notice until I took them off!

 

 What I Didn’t Hear:

 

 Sounds of the furnace running, the refrigerator, the dishwasher, the ticking of the clock, street noise, birds chirping, neighbors running machinery, wind, rain, a passing jet plane, the dog snoring… the list goes on. I see now why sensory deprivation chambers can be calming and relaxing. The only thing left to quiet is your inner monologue. (Not an easy task!)

 

 Absolute quiet is so rare today that it is a precious commodity. But it can also be difficult to become accustomed to silence. I notice in my classes that students are more comfortable working with soft music playing. I think it helps to drown out the sounds of others working nearby. Some students even have a difficult time with music playing. They seem compelled to verbalize each painting decision, talking constantly to their neighbor, the instructor and even themselves. I once heard an art instructor reprimand someone in class: “It is ok to have an unexpressed thought.”

 

Folks who talk compulsively also have a difficult time listening. 

 

If you notice yourself trying to fill the silence around you, take a look at this article by Jen Nicomedes Stone: 10 Ways to Embrace the Power of Silence. It looks at ways to quiet your mind and your environment. Finding silent moments often makes the sounds that fill our days even sweeter. It gives our other senses like sight and touch and taste more focus and attention.  And silence between friends and family can be sweet. Try it with a loved one: spend 5 minutes together in silence: hold hands, look into someone’s eyes, draw, or simply sit close by and dream together. You may even read each other’s minds. There are other forms of communication besides talking.

 

 “Let your beauty manifest itself without talking or calculation.

 

You are silent.

 

It says for you: I am.

 

And comes at long last over everyone.”

 

 -Rainer Maria Rilke

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