Sunday June 17, 2012
It takes nature and a book about silence to help our columnist find solace after losing herself to a punishing schedule.
I had this thought one night: Almost as soon as our body breaks down, we begin to decompose, which involves the shedding of flesh, flaking of bones, as well as the emitting of gases. In the still of the night, when you lie quietly, sleepless, and you listen, you can hear the sounds of fluids flowing inside your body. They are either restorative fluids rushing to prevent death, or they are synthesizers of diseased cells capable of bringing forth death.
I speak from experience.
Having suffered from sleeplessness for five nights in a row, I thought of nothing but the descent of death. How ludicrous, you might say, for five nights is by no means chronic. But unless you have gone through the agony, you should not scoff. That whole time of staring into the darkness was nothing but frightful. As the fluids in my body flew, I felt sporadic tingles of electromagnetic shock jerking within, and when they reached the brain, I hallucinated, thinking my feet, as cold as metallic rods, were those of corpses. But I wasn’t dead.
I plunged into sleep eventually, whether out of fright or fatigue, I do not know. When I woke up on the fifth morning, I went straight to the doctor.
Nothing was wrong with me, except for my stressful schedule and the lack of an outlet for the abundance of energy wanting to burst out. The doctor, a kind old man in his late 60s, implored me to take up some form of relaxation, be it a sport or simply, walks. All the more for an energetic woman like you, walks in the woods are good, he said, gazing earnestly into my eyes, and then telling me to take regular walks at a place called Hunts Creek.
And I did, almost immediately, with a book and water bottle in hand.
Hunts Creek is not too far from my house in Sydney, Australia; I can easily reach it on foot in about half an hour. On the day I went, it was drizzling. With Sara Maitland’s The Book Of Silence clutched in my hand, I entered, taking care to watch out for reptiles, which can be abundant in most outdoor places Down Under.
No sooner had I entered then I heard the sound of water flowing; standing on the bank of the creek, I watched water rush past, taking along with it autumn leaves and the distinctive shreds of gum tree bark. Gum trees were everywhere, their lemon-scented eucalyptus fragrance shrouding the place, intoxicating and relaxing at the same time. A kookaburra glided right past me, its blue tail nearly touching my cheek. It chided me with its human-like laughter, as if I looked out of place in the woods unaccompanied by technology – no cell phone or iPod. I whistled, looking up to catch a clearer glimpse of the bird. Dew fell on my face, blurring my sight.
As I stood in the dappled sunlight, my dread of sleeplessness vanished. I hallucinated again, disbelieving my existence within this enchantment. Then a small rush of spiritual comfort flew outward from my heart, and my lungs inflated with an inrush of scenery, air, water, and birds. Though my feet, drenched after I stepped into a puddle of rainwater, were still as cold as metallic rods, the sound of fluids flowing in my body could be heard no longer. This place allows an assimilation of beauty, and was my doctor’s excellent path to healing.
On a weathered bench I sat, despite the increasing chill, and opened my book. In some of Sara Maitland’s passages in The Book Of Silence, she shares vivid recollections of “the sudden feeling once, on some mountainside, of being physically connected to everything; waking on a night of swarming stars; watching the desert dawn; walking the hills like Dorothy Wordsworth or, like William Wordsworth, paddling a boat among the reflections of stars and dragonflies.” But I felt none of that, for I was not in search of “dense pools of silent energy”, nor was I searching for transcendent silence as a practice, a discipline, or a way of life as Maitland does.
All I needed was to unite my heightened senses and diminished calmness with silence and solitude, so as to regain myself in a world that is constantly rushing, bustling, hassling, booming, buzzing, pinging, texting, e-mailing and Internet surfing. I had been spooked by endless needs and sapped of energy. I lost track of time and date, felt my identity dissolving amidst a demanding schedule, and drowned in ever-increasing demands from people. I lost myself – and I am not alone in that.
My doctor saved me by leading me to Hunts Creek and lending me this book. As I walked further up along the creek, the sun emerged once again, and for the first time in more than five days, I yawned. I thought, “This is what it is to be happy, though just a day ago I felt the descent of death.”
● Abby Wong realises, albeit slightly late, the importance of forging a life with silence at the very centre of it.