“Shutting out the world is not about turning your back on your surroundings, but rather the opposite: it is seeing the world a bit more clearly, staying a course and trying to love your life.” — Erling Kagge
I’ve been examining my addiction to social media of late. Especially Facebook and my increasing need to escape the noise of it. My need for silence. Perhaps those raised in the current tech era might not understand or appreciate that need or even what silence is—there is so little anymore—or the reflection and wonder that comes with it. But that quiet is what makes us more human and, in my opinion… probably better writers.
It is a difficult habit to break because it involves, like all addictions, our very own neurotransmitters. In the case of social media, it’s the endless dopamine loop. Those sites and apps were designed to create a yearning, that feeling good about pursuing feel-good activities. Has anyone “liked” my comment? Has anyone noticed me? All this can be fulfilling, I suppose, or just a waste of time. None of it is self-productive.
Taking a break is harder than it seems. This past week I’ve noticed just how jumpy I am when sitting still. My monkey brain clatters and bangs and it’s all I can do not to get up and run. Ironing? Really? I’d almost settle for that. And I have cleaned the fridge, the freezer, and wiped the walls for mold rather than face the inside of my head. But if I do accomplish 20 minutes of sustained quiet, an open space begins to unfurl and a growing sense of peace and calm drops over me. This is also, coincidentally, when I’m most likely to experience the presence of those who have gone from this world.
So, what is silence exactly? Erling Kagge, explorer and author of Silence: In an Age of Noise, says it’s more of what I’m describing than any shortage of sound. Something nearly impossible to find even in the most isolated places on the planet. His descriptions of the Arctic and Antarctic (where he spent 50 days solo) is less than quiet. So too is the jungle where I live.
So, silence can be seen as a place within where we find space to carry on a conversation with ourselves. I think this is what Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages have brought me. At least when I do them, I find I begin to write to myself in the second person. “Well, Sarah,” I’ll sometimes write. It’s almost as though it’s someone else talking to me. Hearing voices? Or… is it God, which is what Cameron suggests. Not sure about God (maybe if we agree to call it dog spelled backward or refer to it with a lowercase g) but I do feel a more significant and wiser force speaking to me.
It’s comforting to know that writers have been coming to terms with this uncomfortable confrontation since Pascale wrote about sitting still and listening. I’m sure we’ve been struggling with it ever since our species became “thinkers,” but I think Pascale was the first to put into words.
Contemplating my word for the year, Open, during these hushed moments of my life has also brought about reflection. It is in the moments away from the TV, social media—the noise—that I find the space for reflection and…not answers but at least the questions.
4 thoughts on “Shhhh…quiet”
Terrific article, Sarah. I think the word Kagge, you and I, and many of our writer friends are searching for is not “silence,” but “solitude.” The time and space to think and contemplate.
Thanks, Karen. Yes…I agree. If the subject interests you, you might enjoy this essay on the similarities and differences between the two words. I find I need them both. 🙂
Blaise Pascal in the early 17th Century: “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
Hi Sarah—you’re correct that we humans have been struggling with this for a very long time. I actually thought I had gotten pretty good at this, because I’ve been “practicing” unplugging and meditating since my mid twenties. (Off and on for 30+ years!) Recently I’ve begun to understand that I’m still a novice, I’m still learning to sit quietly (silently) in a room alone.
Pascal, however, wasn’t the first to put this struggle into words. There are references to the struggle in the 6th Century Rule of Benedict, in the BCE Hebrew Tenach (books of Wisdom) and although I’m not familiar with the original texts to say for certain, from Joan Chittister’s 21st Century commentary on The Rule — I surmise that ancient Taoist, Hindu, and Buddhist writings also have explored the difficulties for humans to be “still” — to be solitary while thinking and feeling authentically (honestly—listening to our deepest selves’ responses to our experience of life). Like I said, I thought I was doing that—but I was only deluding myself. I was coming up with answers, figuring things out. I was spending time in solitude but not in silence —
I think you’ve explained the essential difficulty — how nearly impossible it is to get the fearful mind to cease its incessant yammering and face down the gaping mawl—the terrible, terrifying, unanswered and unanswerable questions, the mysteries of existence.
A year ago I began adding silence to solitude—and you’re correct, they are sometimes interdependent but not the same.
While there may be no answers in silence, there is the promise of something even better than “knowing” what it’s all about. In silence, I’m beginning, barely, to experience the sense that I am becoming myself, that is, coming into the “being” of who and what I am. In other words, I am learning how to accept and love my life.
Beautiful, thoughtful, honest post. Thank you.
Tracy, thank you for stopping by and for your astute comments. I sometimes think that overthinking is my biggest obstacle to it all. I know the Dalai Lama would just laugh at my comments. Or… sit silently and let me figure it out.