Name: Blake Miller, Class of 2019
Undergrad: Whitworth University
Hometown: Missoula, MT
Fun Fact: I grew up 20 minutes from a ski resort but never downhill skied until moving to Colorado this year.
It’s an age-old story: a small-town boy moves to the big city to pursue his dreams of fame and fortune, only to face trials and challenges that test him more than he’d even imagined. Alright… maybe that’s a little sensationalized, but all the parts are there. Here’s the real story: I grew up on the outskirts of Missoula, a lovely town in Western Montana where the only thing that could cause a traffic jam on the Interstate was a herd of rogue cattle. As fate would have it, I decided to venture south to the land of altitude, and more importantly, the city of the prestigious Regis University. As you’ve probably guessed, I moved here for PT school, a 3-year endeavor where excitement and challenges abound. While school has been hard (insert cliché reference to Anatomy and Neuro), there has been another large and unexpected challenge: finding silence and calm amidst the whirlwind of school and obligations.
Growing up in an area of the country that is relatively isolated, it was easy to take the absence of noise for granted. I was guaranteed to find at least 5 mountain trails with no one else on them within 10 miles; if I was feeling lazy, I could simply walk outside and find that same noiseless environment in my backyard. But that all changed when I moved to Denver. The first hike I did was a 14er (not the brightest idea), and I was shocked by how many people could find their way to a mountain at 6:30 AM on a Tuesday. My new apartment wasn’t any better, as the sounds from the traffic were always present (in contrast, my roommate from Chicago was just happy to not hear gunshots at night anymore).
It’s amazing what happens when you lose something you take for granted. At first, I didn’t realize it had happened; I thought my newfound low-level agitation was due to my obligatory grad school coffee addiction. But, after about a month I figured it out: I had not found a single moment since moving to Denver where I had felt the silence that is only found by being alone in nature. So, I changed a few things. I began making space for myself, and as a result I slowly became less anxious, more productive, and much more present in everyday situations.
Here are my tips to help you find silence during PT school–both in nature and in everyday life:
1. Make time for yourself when you’re in nature
I’ve developed the reputation among my hiking classmates of getting 80% of the way to the top of a mountain and then flying ahead, not to be seen again until I’m sitting on the edge of the summit. While they might attribute this to my eccentric personality (fair enough), the main driver of this behavior is that there’s an uncanny stillness atop a peak that is only disturbed by the occasional chirp of a bird and, once they catch up, the laughter and musings of my friends. So, next time you go hiking, biking, or climbing, take a second for yourself to simply be still and relax in the wonder around you.
2. Utilize your car time
Take one of your weekly drives and turn off the radio. I prefer to study alone, so most of my go-to coffee shops are 20 minutes away (Stella’s, Steam, Nixon’s, but that’s a whole different blog post), and assuming you don’t go there during rush hour, you’ll have a relatively peaceful drive when you turn the music off. Or, next time you make the 90-minute drive to Estes Park or Vail, try it in silence and see how it affects your mood and the way you interact with others.
3. Make it a daily practice
If you’re pinched for time, Regis has many good spots that are removed from the noise. If you want to watch the sunset in silence from an unobstructed view, try the chapel; if you just need a break from studying, find an empty classroom in Claver – there are plenty!
4. Become comfortable with listening to your thoughts.
I write this as finals are creeping up, and it is a common sentiment among my classmates that we feel overwhelmed and bombarded with constant thoughts that demand our attention. Instead of tuning them out, listen to them; give them the attention they deserve. One way I sort out these thoughts is to take 15 minutes every day to sit in silence in my room with all distractions, especially my phone, removed. Set a timer, and just sit in your thoughts until it goes off. These 15 minutes might feel like an eternity at first, but after making it a daily practice for several weeks I’ll bet you will find it to be a very peaceful and life-giving way to end your days.
5. Translate your comfort with listening to your own thoughts into comfort with listening to others.
It’s difficult to listen to others when you’re busy trying to take care of your own thoughts. Once you have sorted out yours, try using that same approach in conversation with others: listen without interrupting, and see if you are more able to actively engage in their story now that you have dealt with your own distractions.
A quote I often come back to is this:
“Silence is God’s first language; everything else is a misunderstanding.”
Of all the coping mechanisms I use to excel in school, none is as important or as beneficial for me as creating time to be alone and remove myself from all the distractions that so easily surround me. If you make time for yourself, you will create space to add time for others and school as well.