“Unplanned contemplation comes softly as falling mist, or the first snows of autumn”– Sigurd Olson
I have realised this year having moved to the city from a full-time life in the wilderness is that two of the things I miss most are moments of true solitude and silence. Humans were never meant to live on top of each other at all times. We were meant to wonder into the wilderness and have moments where we communed with trees and a running stream and nothing but silence for at least some extended period of time. In the silence and solitude the answers to our deepest questions and feelings are given the chance to show themselves.
For the last two weeks I’ve been feeling a bit flummoxed about how to proceed on various things. From larger work-based questions to tiny things like do I want chicken or beef (honestly it’s more like rice or quinoa) for dinner. Normally when I take the time to stop, breathe, feel and notice I get a clear bodily sense but I’ve been finding it so hard to make decisions. Emotions have been feeling muddled and I just felt like I had lost my center.
I went to bed one evening while all of this was going on and awoke the next morning to find that a single storm had moved us from summer to winter in a matter of hours. The whole of Boulder, Colorado was covered in a layer of snow. When I awoke it was still falling in delicate, dancing swirls of white. Trees, roofs, cars and tar were covered in it, hiding the human influence on the landscape, turning everything the color and shape of snow.
It was the kind of weather that encouraged everyone else to stay home but being from South Africa and a newbie to this kind of winter, I wrapped myself in every layer of warm clothing I owned and wandered into the hillside behind my house to walk in the snow. Coming onto a rise that I have stood on many times, a sound was knocked out of me as I looked out over the beauty of the newly snow-dumped landscape. I felt like I had been shrunk to a miniature version and woken up in a snow globe.
I stood for maybe ten or fifteen minutes with my arms outstretched, letting the snow drop onto my smiling face. It was so perfect I was unable to move on. It felt like the snow had coated my own messy inner landscape and I reveled in the long moments of peace it created. When I realised that I no longer had any feeling in my extremities and decided to look just one last time at the exquisite whiteness of it all, a small black bear sprinted out in front of me. I had been scouting for a bear for months. I would scan every landscape and even slip into my backyard at night with a spotlight when I heard rubbish bins being moved in the hopes it was a hungry bear taking scrimmaging chances at the edge of town. The bear took a few more paces, then it stopped and turned, looking in my direction. We watched each other for a few moments and then it turned and hurtled into the tree line for good. I stood there bewildered, elated and fulfilled in the way that only wild animals seem to bring with their presence.
Standing in the heavy blanket of silence I could have wanted for nothing more in those long moments. The stark contrast I felt then showed just how much noise and mess my own thoughts and mind had been contributing in the last little while.
Yes it can be hard to live in a city amongst people, cars, bright lights and sirens but there’s also an amount of noise that we add with our very own worries, fears, insecurities and constant seeking for answers. Amongst that mess, it’s really hard to find what you’re looking for or even know what you’re looking for. When you stop to embrace the quiet and just sit in the big vast nothingness of it all, that’s when the understanding comes out of nowhere like a black bear and streaks across the whiteness in the most unmistakeable way.
In that moment I was reminded that sometimes you don’t have to seek anything in order to find it. You just need to wander out and appreciate the silence and the solitude and maybe just maybe, what you’re seeking will find you.