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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Silence is Golden

Air Date: Week of

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Commentator Richard Mahler reminds us that even in the wilderness it’s hard to find peace and quiet.


CURWOOD: During summer, many of us look forward to soothing getaways surrounded by nature. But these days, even the outdoors can be crowded and noisy. And that has writer Richard Mahler thinking.

MAHLER: Even our wilderness isn’t quite anymore. This was confirmed not long ago by a man who records natural sounds for a living. Gordon Hempton visited 15 states and found parts of only two that were free of the human-made sounds of airplanes, music, chainsaws and gunfire for more than 15 minutes during daylight hours. The clamor of machines and the electronic beep of the information age now conspire to obliterate the balm of silence that once soothed our aches and pains.

Not only has noise invaded nearly every public space from beaches to mountaintops, but we let it invade our inner sanctums, as well. We walk in our front doors and flick on TV sets, radios or CD players. We sit down with squawking phone messages while logging on to the busy internet.

Lost from the day’s routine is time to abide peacefully with ourselves. That’s too bad because this is where we often wake up to the cause and effect of life. A sanctuary of silence can restore peace and expand insight.

Clinical studies confirm that stillness may also lower stress and blood pressure while promoting a sense of happiness and well being. Throughout history, quiet alone time has been used to maintain psychological equilibrium. Here we acquire the skills, imagination and resilience for handling life’s inevitable traumas and challenges.

Silence allows us to explore the unconscious mind, feel the yearnings of the heart, follow the wisdom of intuition and understand the truth of experience. Solitude in nature allows us, in the words of Henry David Thoreau at Walden Pond, to “be completely true to ourselves.”

Silence and solitude require no special equipment, jargon or pill. They can be as soothing as a bubble bath and as illuminating as a bright idea. Best of all, they cost nothing. In fact, timeouts can pay for themselves by making us more efficient during our active hours.

In outdoor solitude, we may discover that less really is more, that a simpler life is a richer one, and that releasing unproductive routines allows healthy habits to grow. All the more reason to protect the pristine silence of nature and to enjoy the relief that comes from moments of stillness in a society that moves faster each day.

CURWOOD: Richard Mahler lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico. His latest book is “Stillness: Daily Gifts of Solitude.”

[MUSIC: Badly Drawn Boy “Wet, Wet, Wet” About a Boy [Original Soundtrack] Artist Direct Records (2002) ]



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