If I was going to do this week’s column properly to make my point, it would be four columns of nothing. No words, no pictures, no ink. Just nothing at all. But I don’t think my managing editor is going to appreciate that much, so I’m going to have to use words to make my point instead.
There’s just way too much noise in the world. And I don’t mean loud noise, or noise from vehicles, industry or technology. There is too much noise in our heads, between our ears.
When is the last time you sat quietly with your thoughts? I mean, really sat, and really quietly. There aren’t many places anymore where you can find a quiet place where there isn’t the whirr of a motor, or shouts of children to be heard.
Places where you can just sit and listen to the sounds of nature. The soft singing of birds, the crackle of an animal moving through the brush, the wind rustling the leaves of a tree. Places where you can notice the subtlest of sounds, like a brook going past.
It’s important to have a place where you can sit and erase your thoughts for awhile. It centers and calms a person, reconnects them with the real world. It’s good not to think about what’s “right” and “wrong” in your world, what needs to be fixed or acquired, the next five things on the to-do list. It’s good to just not have thoughts and let it all go, and listen to the music of nature.
It’s important to find a way to do this on a regular basis. But we get too busy and forget.
Perhaps we are avoiding it on purpose. I sometimes think that many people are afraid to sit quietly with their thoughts. Afraid of what might happen if they sit long enough to see their real selves, and things how they really are. There are many answers when you sit. We shouldn’t be afraid of them.
Sometimes it seems like people are running away from the silence. They place earbuds in their ears and think they are shutting out the world, but they are really just trading it for another world.
Music has a way of throwing you around in time as you get older, and it’s hard to listen to a song without thinking of a memory it’s attached to, good or not-so-good. So music isn’t actually the cleanser we are looking for.
Many people are so uncomfortable with silence that they talk continuously in order to avoid it. I used to have a co-worker who talked constantly, and I found myself tuning out a lot of the time. It was just too much to process.
For me, there has to be places of rest, and if they don’t come naturally, then I look to create them in order to protect what I think is my own sanity. Yes, I realize it may be too late for that.
People like to fill up the space of nothing with television and movies, which provide a wonderful escape, but again lead us away from ourselves. Not bad from time to time, but to constantly sit with images being thrust at us is really just a distraction from the realness of life and things that need to be addressed.
After all, what is more important, the fantasy figures on the screen or the real people in your life? Make sure you aren’t trading one for the other.
When’s the last time you didn’t know where your phone was, or cared? Have you turned it off lately? Perhaps you should. We’ve become so used to holding them constantly, checking them often for messages and news that we are ignoring the situations we are in and the people we are with.
We are frittering our time away with check-ins and not living real lives. I have been keeping my phone on silent more and more often and leaving it behind when I take my lunch or go on long walks with my dog.
It helps me enjoy the time better and there are no interruptions. I can address any important messages when I get back – and messages are never really that important any more.
I think it’s important for there to be times and places where a person simply cannot be reached. I work to preserve those places in my life. The last thing I want is for people to be able to contact me 24/7 at their whim.
People don’t seem to respect a person’s downtime anymore, and it seems like it’s okay to send silly comments at any time of the day or night. For this reason, I turn my phone off at bedtime and turn it on again in the morning. I get a decent night’s rest and a longer-lasting battery, both very good things.
And then there are the real thieves. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest. Not exactly popular with my generation and older, but still quite the peace stealers. We are fascinated with each other and can’t seem to get enough of it. Who is doing what, with whom, and where, and are there pictures for me to look at, like, and comment on?
You can get lost in all the noise of it. There’s so much now to look at, check in on, and post for others to see that it’s quite maddening at times.
If you think you aren’t one of these people I describe, try sitting quietly in the quietest place you can find for just five minutes or so and see how you do. Be sure you have all your devices off, not just on silent, where you can’t see them or anyone else’s.
A good place is outside, lying on your back, looking up at the sky. Just be there. Don’t try to think about anything, just let it all go. Instead, let the thoughts come to you, and then let them pass without holding on to them. See what happens.
You might find that a mental vacation is more refreshing than a typical one, and it’s there whenever you wish it, at no cost at all.
If you get quiet enough and still enough for long enough, eventually the answers will come to you. You just have to wait.
Originally published August 16, 2013