Silence is an essential survival skill. But silence is not necessarily serene calm. In the wilderness, silence could be a deer listening for a cougar. It may be waiting quietly for a fish to bite. Or stillness when you feel sad.
Today, children spend so much time being told what they could or should think. They’re not only bombarded with the noise of traffic, crowds, machinery, and television, but also the constant stream of information, opinions, and advertising hitting them at web-speed.
Social media can be an assault on the nature of silence. It relentlessly inundates our children with the thoughts of people, people, and more people. This sheer volume, the cacophony, wears them down until eventually, it settles into white noise they tune out or drudge through. They rarely have the space to hear the more-than-human voices of this world—of what is still wild.
My goal for my own children and for all the children I work with is to find ways for them to experience silence. That could be as simple as sitting in a place with plants, trees, birds, and animals to simply greet the day. We call this their Secret Spot.
Wilderness skills can also help. Shelter, water, and food are found at a far quieter pace in the wild. Navigation lets kids silently (and safely) walk away from (and back to) the human world. Survival requires them to truly see the land—never missing an opportunity, or even a danger. Animal tracking is the quiet observation of the most subtle signs. Wild plants ask children to thoughtfully harvest, not as owners of the land, but as caretakers tending to its needs.
This all leads to a way of seeing, hearing, and sensing that we at Trackers call Whiskers.
Whiskers are your peripheral vision and the edges of all senses.
The modern world teaches children to focus on one thing: chalkboard, TV, computer, the “right” answer. Through this tunnel vision, they miss critical information. They get trapped in the busyness of their thoughts and can no longer listen. But when kids learn to quiet themselves this wider awareness comes naturally and a far more diverse world reveals itself.
Finally, if children get to experience true silence and slow to natural rhythms, they tap into the intrinsic social values we evolved with—the desire to create and care for healthy communities—values that helped our ancestors survive on this earth for millions of years.
Silence may have faded from childhood, but it is not completely lost. It can be rediscovered. But rediscovering silence does not simply mean sitting still. It can even begin with cultivating more adventure in the lives of our children through learning the deeper skill of listening to nature.
Below are a couple Missions that help cultivate silence. Remember, at the core of all wilderness skills lies Whiskers and silence.
MISSION – Stone Still
Find one place to sit. Don’t worry about it being perfect. Make it convenient and close to your house—the wildest place in your backyard is ideal. While sitting Stone Still, relax as much as possible. Use your Whiskers to see the entire area even though you’re not moving. Wait for the sun to move 1-2 fingers before getting up (about 15 – 40 minutes).
MODIFY – Half-Speed Explorer
After sitting Stone Still, slowly and quietly explore at half your normal speed. Look for raccoon trails in hedges. Map the wild places. Move slower and slower until you’re back to stillness. Then start again.
MISSION – Whiskers
Place your hands together out in front of you. Focus straight ahead. While wiggling your fingers, spread your arms apart until you can just barely see movement on both sides. This is your wide-angle vision—your Whiskers.
MODIFY – Walking Whiskers
Walk barefoot along any changing terrain. Keep your head up and your Whiskers on full steam. Before committing your weight, feel the ground for a quiet place with the ball of your foot and toes. Then move forward. Do this coming in and out of your Secret Spot (see Half-Speed).