In one of my endlessly-fascinating conversations with my four-year-old son, he once asked me, “Mama, what is your very favorite thing?”
I love how kids deal in extremes. My very favorite thing out of all the things? I paused to ponder this. Well, I love to be with my children and my husband. I love to read. I love to sleep, and I don’t get enough of it. I really love to eat dark chocolate. But, my very favorite thing? “Truly, son, my favorite thing to do is to walk.”
This baffled him, of course. “That’s boring,” he said. (This coming from a kid whose favorite thing to do is race around the yard with his light-up Spiderman shoes and hit trees with large sticks.) Walking is so mundane, right? So basic.
But to me, walking is exactly the right speed. Biking is fun, but too fast. Driving is nice when you really need to get somewhere, when the weather is poor, or if the distance lends itself to an unreasonably long hike. But when I’m walking I see my surroundings at precisely the pace that my brain requires to fully understand them. I can see the fall leaves in all their amber-hued glory. I can watch squirrels do their funny peek-a-boo shows and chase each other’s tails in loopity loops around the trunks of trees.
More importantly, though, walking gives my brain the space and silence to categorize all my thoughts and place them in the appropriate bins in my head. In the slowness and the quiet I begin to notice the sounds of birds praising. I remember recent events and conversations and fully process how I feel about them. The worries that have stacked themselves up on top of one another begin to, one-by-one, become logical problems to solve rather than insurmountable obstacles to fret over. I plan and pray and breathe.
To me, quiet and slow are not boring. They are necessary tools for thinking, being, listening, and connecting.
In Peter Block’s and John McKnight’s book, The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods, they echo my sentiments about the importance of silence.
“If we want to create community, then we must make space for silence. Silence creates the opportunity for inwardness and reflection. It makes the space for thinking. It manifests the stance that thought has value. That thinking is an action step. In this sense, thinking is a form of doing.”
In the silence of my walks I reconnect with my thoughts, my beliefs, and my memories. This allows me to connect with others on a more honest level because I actually know what I think and believe. I’ve had the time to think things through, or at the very least, to breathe and fill my proverbial cup.
My family has come to know that my walks are as beneficial to them as they are to me. When I return, I have renewed clarity, patience, and direction. I’m usually happier, too. To be clear, some days a walk is just a walk and does not lead to some grand, overarching revelation. Other days, as the mother of two children under five, I miss my walk completely. But most days, my walk is as essential to my wellbeing as food or water. It changes how I relate to others, and in that way, my walks are a measure of my connectedness to my family and my neighbors.
“Our willingness to experience silence is a measure of the quality of how we are with others and becomes a measure of our connectedness with others, which is the essence of community. In a competent community, as in an intimate relationship, there is a space for silence and it does not make us nervous.”
It’s counterintuitive, I suppose, that solitary time could improve community. But at least in my case, it’s absolutely true.
“Silence is also associated with listening. In silence, we are willing to listen to ourselves as well as others.”
Oftentimes, I don’t fully understand how I feel about an issue or a conversation until I have had time to walk around and contemplate it. I’m wary to make any big decisions without first having a good, long walkabout. I altogether believe that when I listen to myself, I’m better at listening to others.
When I’m in touch with my exhaustion and how it’s affecting my behavior, I’m more patient with my tired four-year-old (who can’t possibly be self-aware enough yet to verbalize why he’s acting out). When I become aware of any bitterness or resentment inside of me, I can make changes to ensure they don’t take root. I am also more aware when I see it in other people, and I can show grace, knowing that I’ve felt the same way. And so it goes.
It’s so simple and so complex. I like to walk.
There are countless ways to experience and benefit from silence. Many people meditate or pray or practice yoga. Some swim laps or sit on park benches. Whatever your preferred method, I challenge you to continue to nurture your need for silence. If you don’t prioritize quiet time now, think about how you can find space in your life for it. Then watch how your connectedness with yourself allows you to be more present in your relationships and in your community.
(Excepts from this blog from The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods, by John McKnight and Peter Block, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2010.)