Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Peace and Quiet

I am an extrovert. I'm sure you all know that already. I can barely keep my mouth shut, I love to be in stimulating environments, and since I live alone I spend as much of my time as I can being connected to other people through the internet. When I wake up in the morning and when I come home at night, often the first thing I do is check facebook and twitter to find out what the rest of the world is doing. I like to be connected. This summer my peer learning group decided to take a once-a-month social media fast. No twitter, no facebook, no text messages, no blogs...and in order to do that, I basically had to shut down my computer and ignore it the whole 24 hours. I know that my self-control would not extend to writing but not checking the news, dealing with email but not checking facebook, etc. Those 3 days were some of the loneliest I remember in a long time--it's strangely isolating to be cut off like that.

But it's also strangely liberating, after some practice. One of my favorite places right now is my friend Cindy's cabin, which doesn't have internet or tv and where my phone only sort of works. It's quiet in a way that even the far-away-suburbs aren't quiet. It's dark. The disconnection is profound, and I have come to love it, even to crave it. I'm finding that if I don't have some disconnected and quiet time in my day, I'm distressingly unproductive and even crabby. I like to have time to just think.

It could be because of articles like this one, or this one, or this most recent could be because I'm trying to write a book AND have a full time could be because something in my spiritual or emotional life has shifted and I just need more space to contemplate. In any case, I long for the opportunity to turn off my phone and internet and just BE. The science tells me that my brain works better when I give it a rest. The history tells me creative juices flow best when given space to move. The spiritual experience of millions of people before me suggests that it's hard to recognize the movement of the Spirit when I'm busy with the movement of the next thing and the next thing, or with what's happening on facebook or twitter or email or the blogosphere. We need time and space to do nothing in order to be our best selves, to let creativity flourish, and to connect to the Holy. We need sometimes to just turn that other stuff off and just be with ourselves and whatever comes up. And, of course, I could do that at home. I could sit and do nothing, or just shut down the computer and read a book, or be disciplined enough to turn off the wireless while I write so I'm not distracted by that little blue twitter bird. But I'm not to that level of my practice yet, so I still need to be more physically cut off in order to really practice silence. I used to mock those people who have that computer software that blocks websites they choose, or that turns their internet off for defined periods of time--couldn't they just have some self control? It turns lol.

I think it's so interesting when people (including myself) claim that we're just not good at silence, or meditation, or prayer, or retreating, or disconnecting so we can reconnect with our center, or other things in this vein. I've said these words before. I've heard them frequently. But more and more, I'm thinking it's kind of a cop-out. Lots of things are difficult, there are plenty of things we're not immediately good at, but we still believe them to be valuable enough to practice. For instance, none of us learned an instrument, or a foreign language, or math, or how to ride a bike, or a sport, or creative writing, or anything else, instantly. Few of us were immediately good at those things either. They take practice, but we don't just say "well, I'm not good at that" and give up on it. But when it comes to practicing silence or prayer or even just BEING without DOING, we do give up right away. The twitter bird turns blue, or the phone chimes, or we walk past a place with free wireless, or we get a little bit uncomfortable, or start thinking of our grocery list, and we're right back in the thick of things, shrugging off the attempt as just "not my thing." And somehow that's okay in a way that shrugging off math or Spanish or learning to drive would not be.

The thing is...silence, retreat, meditation, prayer--all of these are practices that Christians (and others) have been doing for centuries. They have endured because they have value, and they should probably be a signpost for us too. We (hopefully) don't give up following Jesus just because it's difficult--though I think many of us do do that (hence the prevalence of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism). But when we just brush these practices aside as something we're not good at, it's likely we're missing something--something that could deepen our faith and change our lives. So the question is: what is it in that silence that we're afraid of, and how can we let go of the fear instead of the practice?


  1. Great post, Teri.

    I think that also, in a culture in which busy-ness = value, it's difficult to say I'm going to be still because that's worth something, too.

  2. I am an introvert. But you knew that. And I still struggle with silence. Lots of good insight. I'm so glad you had a good time at the cabin.