Listening Below the Noise: A Meditation on the Practice of Silence

Listening Below the Noise: A Meditation on the Practice of Silence

by Anne D. LeClaire


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061353352
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 02/10/2009
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 805,648
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 7.40(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Anne D. LeClaire is a former reporter, radio news broadcaster, and op-ed columnist whose work has appeared in Redbook, the Boston Sunday Globe, and the New York Times, among other publications. She is the author of eight novels, and translations of her work have been published in twenty-four countries. She lives on Cape Cod.

Read an Excerpt

Listening Below the Noise
A Meditation on the Practice of Silence

Chapter One


Hearing the Call

A songbird led Mary Lennox to the hidden garden at her uncle's country estate and unearthed the key that would open the gate. But it had been there all along, waiting for her.

Are there certain sanctuaries to which you are drawn for inspiration and restoration, for solace or consolation? The mountains, the seashore? A chapel? Even a coffee shop on the corner? My own is a narrow swath at the edge of Nantucket Sound on the south side of Cape Cod, a place I often look to for grounding because the steady rhythm of waves, the briny air, the call of gulls, and the give of sand beneath my feet have a way of anchoring me and easing confusion. And so on this particular January afternoon, in need of comfort, I headed there.

Earlier that morning, my friend Margaret had called from the hospital to tell me her mother was dying. Preoccupied with concern and sadness, I wrestled with the hard knowledge that there was nothing I could do to safeguard my friend from pain. I could neither control life nor delay death and hated feeling so helpless. A few years earlier, both my father and my beloved mother-in-law had died, and I still had days when, in the supermarket or at the garage waiting for an oil change, I suddenly would be swept with grief. Now, triggered by Margaret's situation, memories of these losses overtook me. Much later I would wonder: Was it my very vulnerability in that moment that made me receptive to what followed? Is this cracking open one of the unforeseen gifts of sorrow?

The ebb tide was at midpoint,leaving a narrow wrack line of seaweed and shells and the detritus we humans trail in our wake—plastic bottles, a soda can, a chunk of orange Styrofoam from a lobster buoy, and, nestled in the arms of a clump of eelgrass, an empty Bacardi bottle. The sky was cloudless, and the horizon offered no clear delineation between the blue of sky and sea, a sort of blending that can trick the eye and create vertigo for sailors and pilots. The sound, like the sky, was calm. Even in the distance there was no chop. Twenty feet out, a lone harbor seal basked on a partially exposed rock; closer to shore, a pair of black-and- white sea ducks dove for food.

I have learned much about the physical world from my husband, who is a commercial fisherman, hunter, and naturalist. One of the first things Hillary taught me after we married and I moved to Cape Cod was how to identify waterfowl by coloration, habits, and flight. Often, as we walked along the salt marsh and shore near our home, he would point out how the surface feeders—mallards, teals, black ducks—took wing straight up. He said the divers—scoters, canvasbacks, redheads—pattered along the surface when taking off. This day the pair of ducks in the sound were eiders, little engineering marvels that use their wings to swim underwater, sometimes thirty-five to sixty feet below the surface.

I paused to watch as they bobbed like plumed buoys atop the water and then dove to feed, staying under for what seemed like two or three minutes before shooting up again. Hillary had once explained that some birds, like grebes, have more hemoglobin in their blood, and the higher concentrations of oxygen allow them to stay underwater for extended periods. I supposed this was true of eiders, too. I inhaled deeply and tried to hold my breath in concert, but was forced to exhale before they surfaced. Again I tried. And again. Deep breath in, hold, exhale. My lung capacity could not equal theirs, and I was awed at how long they could remain submerged. Years later, Margaret would tell me that as I patterned my breath to the sea ducks, I was practicing pranayama, the conscious breathing that is one of the eight stages of Yoga. Such breath work, she explained, actually changes the physiology of the body, preparing one for hard work and readying one for meditation. Was I then, on some level, preparing myself for work I didn't even know awaited me?

As I focused on the eiders my sadness and confusion abated. Although I could neither stay the death of Margaret's mother nor protect my friend from the inevitability of loss, a deep comfort washed over me. Many years earlier, during a troubling time, I'd received a card imprinted with the words of the medieval mystic Lady Julian of Norwich. Now as I stood there, staring out at the sound, they scrolled through my brain: All will be well and all will be well and all matter of things will be well.

The phrase echoed in my mind, calming and soothing me, and something I can only describe as reverence slipped in, so hushed I didn't know the exact moment it took me, only that I felt an acute appreciation for the ever-constant cycle of seasons and tides and years, and for natural beauty so compelling it held the power to ease a troubled heart. I was taken with a sensation of timelessness and connection with the universe. To put it simply, in that brief moment on a Cape Cod beach, I was aware both of the glory and the privilege of being alive and of the incredible puniness of my spot in the universe.

Listening Below the Noise
A Meditation on the Practice of Silence
. Copyright © by Anne LeClaire. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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