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I’m getting lost in the noise of my busy job and busier family

Nov 19. 2018

The chaos of my family kitchen rattles my brain: kettle and pots clanking, dishes clinking and cutlery crashing as it’s scooped and clattered into place. Conversation, demands and the battle between waffles or pancakes as I crack eggs, whisk flour and milk, melt butter and create golden brown circles for my family. Then the waves of clean up noise, the reversed clattering and crashing of plates and cutlery scooped up again, the happy chatter about the day – put on your clothes, brush your teeth and hair, put away your laundry.

I escape briefly to my bedroom. The pandemonium of the family kitchen, the energy we exchange in a cacophony of voices and household noises, doesn’t exist in this room. In my bedroom, ancient wooden windows with single panes of glass stop birds from entering but allow the swish of the wind to echo. The sunlight is fading from the glorious golden yellow of early morning to the whiter, more worn light of midday. And there is silence. Pure, simple, silence, inviting my breathing to slow and my ears to hear the sounds that are long and low within myself.

This moment of sudden, unexpected total relaxation seems to snap my body into alignment; I stop, straighten and breathe. Immersed in myself, I feel the peace and deep unhindered calm of the moment. I’m taken aback at how uncommon this feeling is. That glimpse of depth in the seconds of silence makes me wonder what I would find if I explored it for longer.

Only in silence do I feel the vague questioning of the choice I made of moving my family overseas from our home in Calgary for my career.

At 36, I have three kids and a great husband and I’m enjoying a career that I find challenging and fun. To the external world, and to myself, this feels like “success.” But there is still a tug in my gut asking if this is who I truly am; if this is happiness or simply the natural evolution of decisions made that haven’t been reconsidered. Only in silence do I hear the self that is separate from the chatter of children and wonder who that person might be.

So I booked a trip to find out. I wanted to extend those moments of searching silence, and see what I could find. I travelled, for the first time in a decade, without my husband or kids. I went with a friend, who shares an appreciation for wilderness and silence, to trek in Iceland. I hoped that the meditation of walking, in a place with no cellphone service, would help me better understand who I want to be.

For six days, we were immersed in wild, raw scenery and real weather – all kinds of weather. The mountains in Iceland are uncluttered by trees, they rise in black pinnacles, contrasted by white mounds of snow. The weather slams into the land after travelling across the northern Atlantic. There is something liberating about looking outside at wild wind and rain and knowing that there’s no decision to make, we would still be venturing out. Scaling a mountain against sheets of rain and returning to a hut for a simple meal reminds you how little you actually need. And how strong it feels to be uncomfortable sometimes.

I was reminded of how much I enjoy those aching tested muscles, and how it is possible to face the storm with good humour. How purposely chosen discomfort can be rich with happiness. I found silence in Iceland, and time to consider the me outside of career and the me outside of kids as I shared stories with strangers with no shared past and no expected future.

When I stopped talking and just listened, I was surprised at how my perspective changed – I became more generous and could ignore the imagined slights of people in close quarters. We would hike all day and come to a small mountain hut, 20 people sleeping across a platform with a couple of mattresses. We ate around a table with elbows and knees pushed against each other to make room for everyone. I learned that choosing to be generous can create more space, more food and more warmth even when there may not seem to be enough to go around on first glance.

But despite all these insights, I didn’t really gain any better appreciation of what I want from life or my job. I suspect the disquiet that drove me to seek silence in Iceland was losing sight of my ability to choose gratitude and joy, and to be present in the challenges I set in my career and my family.

I came home to noise, chaos, rush and love; with no less confusion on who I want to be. With maybe one exception. I know the answer isn’t waiting out there on the top of a mountain in the silent snow, or inside my head if I just strain hard enough to hear, and it’s not in conversation with other seeking souls. The answer is in front of me with every step on my own life’s path, and in every choice I make.

I’m not finding myself. I’m creating myself. I need the storm as much as I need the stillness. Strength is built under load. I am so looking forward to picking up all of my loads – now no longer burdens – and trekking on.

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