Have you ever sat and quantified your day? Going through, hour by hour, see how much time you spend at each task. Can you count the hours engaged with technology, with machines, inside surrounded by an artificial environment? How much time do you spend in nature? How much time do you spend in quiet — without the buzzing of the air conditioner or the background filler of music?
The running of machines and consumption of technology functions as mental noise. It fills our brain, our ears, occupies our thoughts. What happens when you shut it off? What happens to you in the silence?
Shake your leg, stand up, sit down. Do you feel restless? Do you look around for some occupation, wishing you could check your phone? How difficult it is to settle into your thoughts, to think, to reflect?
Whether passive or active consumption, technology occupies our minds. Reflection is a muscle and to be able to do it, to be able to think and process clearly, we’ll need some silence. True silence. Ideally it is sought without the buzzing of machines and technology, without background noise. We find this best in nature, outside, in the sun or under a cloudy sky, whether hot or cold.
And there we find solitude. What is solitude? Is it loneliness? Is emptiness, a void waiting to be filled? Is it one of those philosophical vacuums where something must fill it or can it be content on its own?
Life is material and busy. People pull us throughout the day. When we are without them we still experience the pull through social media, email, phone calls, and text messages. And it can be pleasurable. It is instant gratifying. I am curious and so I Google the question. A ping catches my attention and I look to see what it is. There is no waiting or wondering. My attention darts back and forth, skimming headlines, skimming articles, looking at images.
It's simpler in a mind in solitude. One thought fills a greater space. I circle around the thought and have time and quiet to ask it questions, to try to understand it.
Then I’m interrupted. Ping. What was that? Has she responded yet? What will she think when she sees my message?
It is harder and harder to stay focused because focus works as a muscle. It must be trained. I work actively and training it to be weak by staying online, darting back and forth.
I return again to this thought. It bothers me because I do not understand it. Worse if it does not bother me. We are meant for thoughts to bother us, to occupy us. Like virtues, there are two extremes. I could never be bothered by a thought, never want to turn it over in my mind and consider what it all means, what it is all about. Or I could obsess over it, unable to let it go, rather than acting as examiner, it now controls me. En medio stat viritus. In the middle stands virtue. The golden mean is the life where I can enjoy the use of technology, of automation, of air conditioning, and still be able to step out into the heat, into the solitude and be at peace. It is the life where I can think and process and be entertained or occupied by the actual work of thinking.
That is why Stephen Colbert can create a parody of deep moments staring out into the night sky asking questions about life. It is funny how moved one can be in that moment, when allowed, when the phone is put away.
If you decided to increase that time of silence just by 10 minutes a day, what would you do? What furniture would you find in that room of your mind? Here in the silence answers can be found.
— Kathryn Casey operates The Good Life – Life Coaching, in Hughson. For questions, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.