Last week, Paul and I went flat water kayaking at the U.S. National Whitewater Center as part of a celebration for his birthday. It was so completely different than our typical way of spending a Friday night. We both got out of work a bit early and were on the river before we even get home most nights.
Being out on the quiet water surrounded by thick vegetation, a soft evening sky, and herons strolling along the banks was lovely. It was silent and peaceful. We were amazed at how it didn’t seem at all like we were only ten miles out of uptown.
We ate dinner and had drinks around a fire. It was a wonderful change in pace and setting.
The whole time I was trying to pay attention and be present, not as a task, but just kept steering my attention back to the moment I was experiencing. I felt I was doing a pretty good job and was ready to walk away from the evening with a pat on the back, but just before we left we walked into the locker room area to collect our belongings and when we walked outside again, the “silence” we had been enjoying all night was chock-full of sound that we hadn’t even noticed.
Crickets, frogs, and other night noises were so incredibly loud it made us wonder how we didn’t notice it before. It was beautiful and we had been missing it the whole time. We were inadvertently tuning it out. We recognized the absence of the urban noises (cars, planes, and people) we are so used to, but we let the the nature sounds blend together and then didn’t pay attention to them. It made me realize that I do this a lot.
In school, I learned how to ignore the background noises, so I could focus on studying. At night, I’ve learned to ignore annoying sounds like a dripping faucet, a squeaky fan, or other creaks and nightly house noises, so I can get some sleep. I do the same thing at work with phones ringing, office conversations, and the tapping on keyboards around me, attempting to distract and break my concentration.
At times, it is good to be able to block out the noise, but the constant urban assault on my senses has somewhat numbed my ability to notice the nice noises. Now it seems, I need to retrain myself to tune back in. Especially, when I’m in a place that seems quiet.