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Seeking the still point

Why silence is good for the soul

By Carolyn Pogue

In all the busyness that is my life, I treasure times of silence. Unplugged. Unzapped by other people’s ideas, music, chatter. When I enter silence, I sometimes think of a Victorian lady, suddenly freed from a too-tight corset. This summer I went camping by myself. It was glorious.

I love camping with my husband, but going solo feels different. I camped alone a couple of years ago in Kananaskis Country, west of Calgary. The campsite was near the Elbow River, rushing fast and furious from mountains to prairie. It occurred to me later that as I walked the pine-scented path by the river, I’d not have heard a bear approach, nor would a bear hear me. This year, I opted to camp east of the city. No bears, just birds. Thousands of them.

I took along a couple of books to read, my journal, some paints and other things. I suppose I thought that I would continue to be busy. But my spirit was wiser than my brain.

I chose a campsite away from humans, near the Bow River. I set up my tent, laid a fire, unfolded a lawn chair and sat. I listened to the river, to wild canaries, magpies, thrush. I watched pelicans soar angel-like in a bright blue sky. I observed spider webs, nesting robins, lightning-fast gophers and ripening Saskatoon berries. I walked a river path. And then I sat some more. It was, as I said, glorious.

Don Chong is a creative Toronto architect and my son-in-law. Once he remarked that he rarely listens to the radio or music in the car because he wants to have the space to explore his own mind and soul. “I also love to ‘inhabit’ my little Moleskin notebook,” he says. “I can’t think of a better way to stay connected with my own thoughts, ideas and observations. Not Google’s. Not Wikipedia’s. Just mine.”

My friend Claire McMordie, a compassionate Calgary lawyer, agrees. Over lunch we talked about how the novel 1984 is becoming more and more real as “groupthink” is normalized through the Internet and the myriad of electronic gadgetry. “My greatest fear about the noise, emptiness and endless reactivity of the cellphone-BlackBerry world,” she said, “is that we will completely forget that which is most precious — deciding how to pay attention, and to whom.”

Robert Bateman, the great Canadian naturalist and wildlife artist, has been sounding the alarm for many years about diminishing numbers of songbirds. If we constantly fill our ears with sounds that are not a natural part of our immediate landscape, how will we notice that the birds have gone?

We can miss a lot when we’re always plugged in. We can miss the sounds of the natural world. We can miss our own creative thoughts. And we can miss that “still, small voice” (1 Kings 19:12) of God when our Creator whispers encouragement and love. That’s a lot to miss.

Author's photo
Carolyn Pogue is a longtime Observer contributor. New posts of The Pogue Blog will appear on the first and third Thursday of the month. For more information on Carolyn Pogue, visit www.carolynpogue.ca..
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