A Love Affair with Silence

I am grateful to be able to live on a mountain. Though after several decades hiking and skiing…

I am grateful to be able to live on a mountain. Though after several decades hiking and skiing the same trails, it takes some effort to make the familiar interesting. The change of seasons certainly do their part adding visual interest by coloring the trees in the spring, summer and autumn, baring them in the winter. Yet still it takes some effort to “keep the love alive.” Hikes at Wanderlust gave me tools to accomplish this.

My beloved home mountain is not as tall or expansive as Stratton, but, in parts, it’s every bit as steep. Especially during strenuous uphill sections, rather than huffing and puffing haphazardly, I’ll concentrate on how the soles of my feet are contacting the earth as much as I would when settling into my mountain pose on a yoga mat. Just adding this one element keeps my mind occupied so as to lessen how much I think of how hard my heart is pumping, and how much I want to stop and rest.

Our leader on a hike here at Stratton told us to hike as we normally would, but to breathe in and out for a count of four, all the while keeping track of our breaths by quietly reciting a mantra and tapping our fingers to our thumb in sequence. Though not as far out of my comfort zone as throwing a tantrum in front of strangers, the added element of disciplining my breathing caused the hike to assume a different character. My pace evened out, slowing me on the flats, steadying me on the uphills.On another hike, our leader, knowledgeable in local plant life, slowed our pace so she could point out and describe the trees and flowers found on the slopes. Some of the flowers also grow on my home mountain, but are so small, I never took the time to enjoy them, let alone learn their names. As our pace was not my usual fast-as-you-can-to-the-top-and-back, I had time to savor the scenery, learn of plants that are poisonous and edible, and enjoy one of my favorite pursuits at a more leisurely pace.

The most compelling experience resulted not by adding an element to my hiking routine, but by removing something: the sound of human voice. We began one hike by riding the tram to the top of the mountain, chatting and making small talk, generally ignoring the scenery.

At the summit, our leader began our hike by first leading us through some stretches. Then, she told us to let our bodies express themselves loudly by speaking or yelling whatever sound seemed to want to come out – as long as it wasn’t English, or any other human language. Yet another instance that I felt confident enough to step out of my comfort zone by being amongst new friends doing the same thing at the same time.

When our leader yelled “Stop!” we all fell silent. We hiked a loop around the top of the mountain for the next forty minutes or so, stopping and drinking in a couple of breathtaking overlooks – at all times maintaining silence.

When we got back into the tram for the ride down, I said, “Here are words that have never come out of my mouth before: ‘I don’t feel like talking.’ ” My new companions smiled and nodded in agreement. We finished the  tram ride in silence, not because of a sense of discipline. It just seemed to be the right thing to do.

steve_suraci_headshotProfessional ski patroller and technology consultant Steve Suraci is happiest when helping others enjoy the hills around his Pennsylvania home. He’s found meditation and yoga to be an effective antidote to life’s uncertainties, and to make more comfortable a body that regularly endures the exertion of skiing. Residing across the valley from a ski area with his faithful hiking and cross-county skiing companion, black Labrador, Beretta, it is common for him to pose the question, to no one in particular, “How much different can heaven be?”