“Why are you so afraid of silence,
silence is the root of everything.
If you spiral into its void,
a hundred voices will thunder messages you long to hear.” – Rumi
I had only been hiking for three hours when the sun began to set; Mt. Rainer in the distance cast a huge shadow against the bright orange sunset. A mile from camp and I was already contemplating dinner and bed; very few things are as satisfying as a meal at the end of a day of hiking. In camp there isn’t much to do, which is perfect when every day there is always just one more thing to do:
Check the mail
Catch up on shows
Walk the dog
Pay the bills
Even though none of that exists out here my initial reaction when climbing into my sleeping bag is always to panic, fearing I’ve forgotten something. But there isn’t a mailbox, or TV, or Internet. I slipped into my bag before as the sky faded from blue, to purple, to black through the treetops lowering my campsite into darkness. It was such a peaceful transition that I fell asleep before I realized how tired I was.
And I slept.
But then I awoke.
It was pitch black and the sound of rain furiously pounding against the tarp over me deafening, and the wind made the trees groan around me. A storm broke over my campsite and the once ideal campground had become the center of a tempest. A burst of lightening halted every thought and movement and the next three seconds were the quietest, and most motionless I had ever been.
There was nowhere I could go for safety; I had never planned for this.
I was at the complete mercy of the world, only protected by a millimeter thin nylon rain fly. I prayed.
The bellowing roars of thunder sounded as if the mountains had come to life, shaking me to the core.
The next three hours were filled with alternating silence and storm. All I could do was surrender in awe and in fear.
The strange part is that despite the inherent danger of my situation I was internally still. Maybe it was terror or maybe I had just given up worrying, but I had peace. I had released my burdens waiting for me at home and I simply took in what was going on around me. I was an observer; I was able to appreciate the terrible power of nature. It was in the stillness between lightening and thunder that I found the pointlessness of my striving.
Lying in my hammock that night I learned a few things
Be willing to be scared:
I didn’t go out seeking danger, but I accepted the risks when I stepped foot on the trail. In the moment of my fear I somehow met myself. There weren’t any big questions or nagging task lists, only myself.
When we put ourselves out in the world we assume a certain amount of risk, the key is to be able to find our peace regardless of what situation we end up in. Being scared doesn’t mean being weak, it is only admitting that sometimes our problems are big; thankfully we are bigger than our problems.
Allow yourself to stop:
I remember, as a kid when I would watch a scary movie or wake up from a bad dream my response was to distract myself by turning on the TV or playing games on my phone. I never wanted to confront the thing that made me uncomfortable.
If we can set aside the things that distract us we can focus on the things that are causing us anxiety. It’s uncomfortable but it allows us to take control of our lives rather than being subject to our fears.
Make it a habit:
It is much easier to become familiar with inner peace and maintain it than it is to only search for it when you are desperate. Think of it like working out for beach season – it is way harder to cram in your workouts in the last two months than it would be if you had committed to a yearlong regimen. If we don’t neglect our physical bodies we shouldn’t deny our mental health either. Set aside time daily, weekly, whenever you need it, to focus on you.
Nature has a funny way of testing us; of bringing out the parts of us we never realized needed work. I had become so caught up in my world of technology, work, and school that I had forgotten how to stop. So here is my challenge: Get out, find a local hike or trail for camping, and dedicate several hours or days in order to find your peace. Call it meditation or prayer or self improvement it doesn’t matter — what matters is that we take the time to know ourselves. Learning how to silence all of the “stuff” clears our minds and frees us to focus on the things that are most important to us.