We dive into the water and breast stroke as quickly as we can to the bottom. 11 feet down.
My ears pop as I reach the bottom and I sit.
The "who can hold their breath the longest" competition has begun.
I close my eyes.
The weight of the water envelopes me. My lungs are burning but it feels good. I can only just make out the muffled sounds above the surface. I push them away.
My eyes are still closed as I focus on the heaviness of the silence that presses in on me.
I wish I could stay down here forever. Weightless. Calm. I smile to myself.
I am happiest here.
The bottom of the Oakey Swimming Pool.
I am twelve.
Ever since I can remember I have been attracted to quietness.
Mummsy tells me that as a small child I was more content to be in my room peacefully reading than running around wildly in our huge back yard. As soon as I was able, I would climb the tree out the front of our house and sit in the highest branches with my eyes closed. Just feeling the breeze in my white hair & pulling in the hush of the back streets of 1970s Oakey.
When I was in my early teens I would love to wake up at pre-dawn when only the milkman and the paper man were up and walk across the railway lines to the Oakey footy club. I would sit alone in the grandstand and watch the oval. It was beautiful. The grounds would be covered in a layer of fine mist, and be littered with hundreds of galahs & cockatoos eating all the grass seed.
I would suddenly hear the first engine revs of a car start. Somebody starting work at the meat works, no doubt and a tinge of sadness would prickle at my skin and I would think "and so it begins again".
Today, I become quite emotionally overwhelmed by the sight of mist and fog. I'm not sure what it is but it makes me feel incredibly happy and sad all at once. I see such intense beauty in it.
In my teens I would take great delight in 'sneaking out'. At about midnight, when everybody was snoring away I would quickly duck out my bedroom window. Sometimes, I would meet my girlfriends down at The Big Hole (the creek) for a dodgy Winnie Blue stolen from Dad's stash but more often than not I would just walk around by myself in the night. This was Oakey so there were no loony serial killers stalking the streets of this small country town. I wouldn't do anything in particular except walk around the back streets, smoking cigarettes and praying that the calm stillness of the night would stay.
When I think back now, it seems obvious to me that I had some sort of 'mental' health issues and the signs of Bipolar are clear to me now. My daylight hours were filled with noise, chaos, anger, yelling and confusion so I guess it was only natural that I found tranquillity in the emptiness.
These days I believe there is even a term for this. PRACTISING MINDFULNESS.
I think my most intense experience with silence came when I was about 31.
Just after I had 'finally' been officially diagnosed with Bipolar and there was a sense of relief that I now had a name for what was happening to me and I wasn't just 'bat shit crazy'.
I felt that I needed to address my past and all the horrors that it entailed. I had tried psychologists but found them to be too cutesy and slightly condescending.
A friend of mine recommended a Silence Retreat at Coolangatta.
For 7 days I stayed in accommodation that was kind of like a school camp. I had my own room but a shared kitchen/dining and communal bathrooms. For 7 days I had no TV, radio, music or phones. No eye contact was allowed with the 30 or so other boarders and certainly NO speaking to anyone.
Everyday we went to meditation classes. I didn't like these as they were done to CDs of crappy whale song or bird noises with some nasal voice telling me to visualise a blue orb over my face. Yuck.
I would have preferred to lie there and simply listen to the breathing of the other participants.
I was given a large folder of written assignments to do that were based on the 5 stages of loss or grief. Each day was dedicated to one. Then every afternoon I would meet with a counsellor & talk about what I had written.
My counsellor was a tied-dyed purple wearing hippy lady who was wonderful with a very dry dirty sense of humour. She was amazing.
When the end of the week came we could finally talk to one another and each person was invited to speak about why they were there. One was a writer of poetry who just needed the quiet, two were brother & sister who had just lost their parents in a car accident, one lady had terminal cancer, one girl had been viciously raped, some just wanted to get away from life for awhile.
It was one of my favourite experiences in my life and helped me accept my past.
I still remember getting into my car to leave and bursting into tears because I wanted to stay in this bush setting with nothing but the sounds of the birds forever.
Even now, I prefer not to have the television or radio on when I am home on weekends. My favourite time of day is early morning before the world has stretched its arms above its head and yawned.
As I sit here now at 5.30 on Saturday morning with my cup of coffee, all I hear is the sounds of the crows in my front yard, the hum of the fridge & the occasionally snore from my still sleeping husband. It is wonderful. Calming.
I close my eyes for a moment & try to pull that stillness into myself & hold onto it. Soon the world will wake up & be filled with the clanking banging revving yelling sounds of movement that is life.
For now though it is just me.