"With no one to talk to, I began a conversation with nature. My thoughts were broadcast out over the plains towards the mountains, and other ideas were sent back..."
I love silence, spending time in nature, and being on my own. When I was in South West England recently, I spent a rainy Saturday afternoon browsing the local bookshop and stumbled upon several beautiful books.
One of them was the little hardback edition of Silence: In the Age of Noise by explorer, publisher, art collector and writer (to name but a few things). I took it into the bookshop cafe and immediately read half of it with a pot of green tea.
The book itself is lovely to look at and hold, which perhaps is not so surprising considering the writer is also a publisher. The mountains embossed in gold on the dark blue cover belong to the kind of design that makes me weak at the knees. Fortunately, the writing also keeps up.
"Keep in mind that the silence you experience is different from that which others experience. Everyone possesses their own."
– Erling Kagge
Silence: In the Age of Noise is a delight to read and spend long moments pondering. I love reading about adventures – especially to cold remote places – so I was bound to enjoy Erling Kagge's stories and meditations from his journeys to the three poles (North, South, and Everest). But it's also a wonderful reminder of how to get back to ourselves, remember what's important to us, and live well.
This book would make a superb gift, and I'm excited to pass my copy on to a few friends. It's small, delicately crafted, readable, and sure to make the lucky recipient think about how they're living and whether they've been setting aside enough quiet time lately.
Twelve lessons & takeaways from the book
1. Silence is always right here
"Deep down in the ocean, below the waves and ripples, you can find your internal silence. Standing in the shower, letting the water wash over your head, sitting in front of a crackling fire, swimming across a forest lake or taking a walk over a field: all these can be experiences of perfect silence too."
2. But nature can be the easiest path to silence and self-reflection
"For me, silence in nature is of the highest value. That's where I feel most at home."
"Now and then I bring a mossy stone down from the mountain and place it on the kitchen counter or in the living room to remind myself about such experiences. Those stones of particular beauty I have given away as gifts. I always keep a stone sitting out at the office."
3. Knitting? Chopping wood? Many of us are looking for similar things
"As a publisher, I have learned that it's possible to sell hundreds of thousands of books about knitting, brewing beer and stacking wood. A great many of us have a desire to return to something basic, authentic, and to find peace, to experience a small, quiet alternative to the din."
4. Silence is about seeing the world more clearly
"Shutting out the world is not about turning your back on your surroundings, but rather the opposite: it is seeing the world a bit more clearly, staying a course and trying to love your life."
5. Be conscious of the path you're on
"I peered up into the sky and imagined the man in the moon turning his gaze far north. Far below he could observe thousands, if not millions, of people leaving their tiny houses early in the day only to sit in traffic for a few minutes or an hour. As if in a silent movie. Then they arrive at large buildings, where they remain indoors for eight, ten or twelve hours seated in front of a screen, before returning via the same traffic jam back to their tiny houses. At home, they eat dinner and watch the news on TV at the same time each night. Year after year."
"Sva marga: follow your own path."
6. Know what a rich life looks like to you
"The unfortunate thing is to have wasted such a large portion of the chance you have to live a richer life. That you avoided exploring your potential. Allowed yourself to be distracted. Never stopped, but were distracted by noise, expectations and images, instead of dwelling on what you were doing at this moment and what you might do differently. I don't mean to say that any of this is easy, but it may be worthwhile."
7. We actually do have enough time
"I don't know how many times I've been told that most people in our part of the world don't experience material poverty, but rather a lack of time. It sounds like such a good thing to say, but it isn't quite correct. We do have enough time. Life is long, if we listen to ourselves often enough, and look up."
"Instead of elaborating about the years that came and went with a champagne flute in hand, we should rather turn to the stoic Seneca on twenty-first birthdays: 'Life is long if you know how to use it'."
8. Being unavailable is a 5* luxury
"Another form of luxury is to be unavailable. To turn your back on the daily din is a privilege. Letting others take over tasks in your absence. The decision not to reply to text messages or pick up when the phone rings. Expectations from colleagues, business connections and family that are not that important to you are handed over to someone else, or ignored altogether. You have fought your way into a position where you couldn't care less if someone wants to contact you."
9. We can disconnect right here and now if we choose to
"One summer I flew eighteen hours from Oslo to Sri Lanka in order to relax, eat healthily and practise yoga in lush surroundings. It was fabulous. At the same time, it felt strange to travel halfway around the globe to disconnect...
The best things in life are sometimes free. The silence I have in mind may be found wherever you are, if you pay attention, inside your mind, and is without cost. You don't have to go to Sri Lanka: you can experience it in your bathtub."
10. Rediscover what truly brings you joy
"Silence is about rediscovering, through pausing, the things that bring us joy."
11. It's not about isolating ourselves
"We are unable to function alone. Yet it's important to be able to turn off your phone, sit down, not say anything, shut your eyes, breathe deeply a couple of times and attempt to think about something other than what you are normally thinking about. The alternative is to not think anything at all."
12. We don't need a course or qualification to get started
"You don't need a course in silence or relaxation to be able simply to pause. Silence can be anywhere, anytime – it's just in front of your nose. I create it for myself as I walk up the stairs, prepare food, or merely focus on my breathing."
"I had to use my legs to go far away in order to discover this, but I now know it is possible to reach silence anywhere. One only need subtract. You have to find your own South Pole.
Books for Bibliotherapy
Read Silence: In the Age of Noise for – slowing down, reducing anxiety, retreating into ourselves, relaxing, finding silence, remembering what's important.
You can get a copy of Silence: In the Age of Noise here.
Enjoy more from me
- Retreat into my new book, Your Life in Bloom: Finding Your Path and Your Courage, Grounded in the Wisdom of Nature.
- I'm also the author of Mountain Song: A Journey to Finding Quiet in the Swiss Alps, a book about my time living alone by the mountains.
- If you love books, are feeling a little lost right now, and would love some gentle comfort and guidance, join The Sanctuary, my seven-day course to rebalance your life.