The Healing Powers of Silence and Doing Nothing

After 4 months of living in a camper van, going from state to state and forest to forest in search of the best rock climbing and the best temperatures, I am officially exhausted.

The plan is/was to continue on the road for at least a year, which we may still do. But for now, we’ve settled into a furnished apartment for one month in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and I have literally not left our new home since we arrived here 5 days ago.

The view from our new home on Suck Creek

After 4 months of driving up and down curvy, narrow roads in a big bumbling van, trying to figure out the best places to get internet so I could work, working until midnight most nights because we’d spent the day climbing, and constantly talking about logistical plans, like…

  • Where are we climbing today? No, no you decide. Ok, I decide? No, you decide.
  • What’s the weather gonna be like, and more specifically, am I going to freeze?
  • What do we need to fix in the van today?
  • We have no food so we need to drive an hour to get some…
  • Which hotel parking lot are we sleeping in tonight?
  • We’re lost. Again. Where the f#ck are we? Damn you, googlemaps!
  • We’re out of water and we have no place to get any more for 2 days…
  • and all the other little things that make van life just a little bit complicated

My husband, whom I obviously love very much, has been by my side for these last 4 months as well, and while it’s been amazing to get to spend so much time with him, being that close to someone all the time can be frazzling.

Don’t get me wrong – there have been countless amazing experiences along the way, but I was ready for some “normalcy”. My ability to cope with yet another little decision or snafu or broken van problem was just depleted. I don’t know – maybe I’m just weak.

Regardless of the judgments I make about myself, I needed space and peace and warmth and stability.

Since we moved into our place 5 days ago, I’ve spent a lot of time lying in bed alone staring out the window, a la Robert De Niro in the movie “Awakenings”.

Screen Shot 2013-12-09 at 2.17.05 PM

Many hours have passed with no music, no talking, no TV, no climbing, no hiking, no working, no company… nothing.

And I’m realizing that one of the most nourishing things for me is just that: being alone doing basically nothing.

I used to get that by taking long baths, going on walks with just my dog, or lying in bed alone (once again, staring at nothing). Just decompressing. It turns out that silence and alone time make me a better person. They make me a motivated, kind, patient person who likes to laugh and be active. Without regular silence and alone time I am a stagnant, not-so-kind, irritable person who thinks laughing is stupid and being active is impossible.

I’m starting to come back to life now.

My husband is being incredibly patient with me and for that I’m so grateful. There are rocks to be climbed here in Chattanooga, and beautiful trails to be hiked. I’m even going to start going to a climbing gym and maybe some yoga classes. That is, once I get the urge to leave the house.

The point of me writing this is not to depress you, by the way ;) I’m sure it has, and if you’ve come this far in the article I commend you. My point is that in times of intensity, I learn the most, whether I like it or not. And what I’ve learned this time is that I can’t deny myself the occasional nothingness that I need, and I’m willing to bet you are at least a little bit the same.

Whether that “nothingness” takes the form of lying catatonically in your bed like me, spending time with your pet, practicing piano, playing video games, reading, meditating, cooking, or whatever it is, it’s essential that we do it. Otherwise, life slowly but surely gnaws away at our nerves and makes us (and the people around us) a little less content.

I, for one, am going to try to never forget this lesson and always take the time I need. I’d love to know how taking time for yourself affects you, too…


  1. Makes total sense to me. I need quiet alone time on a very regular basis in order to feel right. Your adventures make me think of my friends currently journaling their way around the world on their bikes ( I wonder what will come for them if/when they settle back into “normal” life… Plenty of time staring at walls, I’d bet.

  2. Neely,
    You continue to delight and inspire with your candid vulnerability. Glad you figured out enough is
    too much before you and Seth did/said something that would injure your relationship.
    Just seeing the picture of your view, and hearing about your silent, still moments, conjure a meditation.
    I am breathing more slowly and consciously, as a result.

    Yoga is the centerpiece of my life; it incorporates breathing, moving, connecting with my mind, body, and soul,in a way that keeps me centered through all else. You know I highly recommend the benefits of this practice,to incorporate with the many other ways you engage your body and your brain.

    For the last 4 year hiatus from my 25 years in retail,( responsible most of those years for opening and
    closing the stores in addition to high pressure sales goals), I have learned a great deal. During this time I became a Paleo, and made significant
    changes in my lifestyle. I began to meditate, became certified as yoga teacher, learned to cook with passion and flair, took time to read…and perhaps the most importantly, to more deeply connect with my
    It is time for me to find gainful employment again (the business of yoga is slow to build) and my savings
    are running out. But as Oprah would say, “This I know for sure” I don’t agree to return to the auto-pilot, nose to the grindstone, approach to work this time around. I don’t know exactly what it is going to look like, but I do know my focus of self-care, is now at my core.
    Bravo to you, for continuing to follow your bliss.

    1. Gail – Thanks, as always, for your encouragement and your own vulnerability. Seth and I are doing everything we can to learn from this experience and move on as a stronger, more loving couple. It’s slow, but I think the most profound changes take time.

      To be honest, meditation and yoga are what I’ve been craving, and I’ve been doing my own forms of meditation. Physical work is still not in my vocabulary yet. Stillness is all I want – like a constant shivasana ;)

      I’m sorry to hear that your career plan is changing, but I know that with your new self awareness and wisdom, you’ll find something that nurtures your new lifestyle. “This I know for sure.”

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