The Healing Silence When Time Stops

Green farm fields with birds in flight

My mental clock is always running, and most of each day I tensely evaluate what I’m doing by its measurement. Am I using this time productively, am I wasting it? Most people adapt to schedules fairly well, but for a depressive mind, time is another weapon.

It becomes the relentless reminder that I am not doing enough, that I am not getting things done, that I can’t do the job, that I’m not measuring up, and on and on. When depressed, I feel time as a steady pressure, nonstop stress, a sense of warning, even danger, built into my brain.

There are moments, though, when stress and time drop away, inner voices meet their match and shut down. It happens to me not by changing a negative pattern of thinking but by listening to something other than thought. Today, I’ve been recalling and reliving one of those moments when I seemed to step right out of time.

When my wife and I moved to New Mexico, we often drove out to explore a countryside so different from the one we had grown up with in the humid northeast of the US. There were stunning sights everywhere: endless dry rangeland spotted with twisting junipers, the sparse grasses clustered to conserve moisture, the land rolling upward toward the foothills and the clear mountain ranges flanking the broad valley.

Despite the natural beauty, I still carried my worries, stress and downward spirals with me. I would often get anxious while driving in this leisurely way, as an inner voice reminded me of time wasting, life wasting.

On one of these excursions, we headed south from Santa Fe to see a village full of beautiful adobe houses in an oasis of tall cottonwoods. Beautiful and relaxing as it was, I felt relieved as we started driving back. I was feeling again the pressure of time and the need to get something done that day.

On the return, we followed a dirt road for many miles through empty ranch land. At one point, my wife rolled down the window and put her head out as far as she could. She started saying something to me and waving an arm. “What are saying? I can’t hear a word!”

She ducked back in the window and blurted out, “Stop – just stop! Stop the car! Here, here – right now!” Edgy to get back home, I didn’t want to slow down for a minute, but I pulled over because she was suddenly possessed by – I didn’t know what. As soon as I stopped by the dusty roadside, keeping the motor running – she popped the door and wandered around, as if looking for something.

She walked about ten feet away, then came back and pounded on my window. I rolled it down to hear her. “Turn off the engine! You have to! Turn it OFF!” Reluctantly, I shut it down, and as soon as I turned the key and silenced that rumbling thing, I realized what it was and just stared at her.

“Hear it? There’s not a single sound!” I got out of the car and listened hard.

For the first time in my life, I heard a silence so complete it was like an utterly different experience of being alive. Not a sound, not a distant engine, a plane overhead, a hammering or a human voice. The wind was still, the birds were quiet in the middle of a sunny day. Nothing. It stopped me, stopped everything in my busy mind and drained the tenseness right out of me.

I just stood there with her, absorbed in the silence. It had a physical quality that calmed me, and I felt not just restfulness in the midst of it but something restoring me as well. The sense of time steadily beating in my thoughts with its rhythm of what have you done, what are you worth, what will you do – all that was gone.

When time stopped, there was no depression, no anxiety. There was only a feeling of wellness and contentment – even a sense of fulfillment. Whatever presence or energy was circulating there, it brought the word “soul” into awareness for the first time in years. It was a feeling of connecting, of bonding, but with what? That was a question I asked later.

Then and there I just floated in that feeling, not having to ask anything about it, not trying to explain it. I do not know what that is, but the experience, when it happens, is one of the richest in life that I know. Without conscious effort, it restores, it calms, it erases all stress and awareness of time and limits, schedules and tasks and deadlines. And it dissolves depression.

In finding a daily way out of depression, moments like these are among the restorative experiences that keep telling me I’m more than the dark condition I fall into. Visualizing and reliving them leads me back to the sense of timelessness that strengthens an essential inner resilience. Remembering these moments is the opposite of the obsessive recollection of failures and mistakes that depression brings with it. The benevolent side of memory is part of my practice of wellness.

I’m sure you’ve had experiences like that. My question is – does it help your healing to recall and relive them?

Image: Some Rights Reserved by Earl-Wilkerson.

6 Responses to “The Healing Silence When Time Stops”

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  1. Martin H says:

    What you experienced was the absence of mind .. A taste of enlightenment .. without making it all glamorous.. You can actually live a life just like that, every day, in the magical emptiness, not from physical noise, but from thought and mental noise.

    when you start resting in awareness, consciously, you start to wake up from the identification of thought, and at one point, these qualities you felt, becomes experiences troughout the day.

  2. Sean says:

    John,

    I have been a long time reader of your blog and have found so much comfort and renewed hope from much of your writing. One of the most enduring qualities, and something that I most value about this space of your honest insights is that your posts always seem to arrive at the exact moment I need them.

    A bizarre serendipity but one that is always welcomed. This post without exception was another magical moment where your description reminded me of the silence I encounter now and then, and that which gives me a direct view of how whole I really am.

    Warm Regards,
    Sean

    • John Folk-Williams says:

      Thank you, Sean –

      A silence that brings you close to your wholeness as a person is a great gift indeed. I guess part of serendipity is your having an openness in your soul.

      John

  3. Judy says:

    Aahhh – this was a nice pause! I guess I’d have to say that singing does pretty much the same thing for me. I get swept away by whatever emotion is being expressed and the depression takes a break, it’s almost like I cease to exist in a physical sense and just feel the energy, especially when I’m singing with my choir. I’m going to try to remember that feeling more often, maybe that’ll help. The trick is to remember to do it!

  4. Janet Singer says:

    What a beautiful post………….just reading it had a warm, calming effect on me. Thank you!

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