Sunday, March 31, 2019

Weekly Inspiration: Stillness and How To Be Alone

I have been trying to catch up on my Quote Journal, where I write down passages I want to remember from the books I read. I've gotten behind and have a stack of books on my coffee table with quotes tabbed and waiting to be transcribed.

One of the reasons for this backlog is a classic book of essays, Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. I re-read it last year during Nonfiction November and felt like I was reading it for the first time. So many passages spoke to me and inspired me that my copy of the book (lovingly inscribed to me from an old friend) is filled with dog-eared pages, and I have been slowly copying those favorite passages into my Quote Journal. You can read my review of the book (plus some of those quotes!) on my book blog.

Quiet Sunday mornings when I am up before my husband are one time when I like to work on transcribing quotes into my journal, and one this morning from Gift from the Sea really struck me:
"Now, instead of planting our solitude with our own dream blossoms, we choke the space with continuous music, chatter, and companionship to which we do not even listen. It is simply there to fill the vacuum. When the noise stops, there is no inner music to take its place. We must re-learn to be alone."
          - Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

The really amazing thing about this passage is that she wrote it in the 1950's! There were TV, radio, and stereos, but Anne had never heard of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, podcasts, streaming services, or even e-mail. Most of our modern-day distractions didn't even exist back then, yet Anne still saw a crisis of people filling every possible moment with noise and no longer knowing how to be silent and alone with our thoughts. This is something that strikes me over and over in her book (as I show with a couple of quotes in my review) - how relevant her words, written over 60 years ago, still are today, in a digital world she never could have imagined.

These thoughts brought me back to one of my all-time favorite TED talks, The Art of Stillness by Pico Iyer, which I watched again today (for the third time!). In it, he speaks eloquently about the power of stillness in the world of infinite distractions we now live in:

Ironically, while watching this video, I had constant urges to click to another tab and check social media while listening or go through some of those 100+ unread e-mails waiting in my inbox! With difficulty, I ignored those urges and tried to just concentrate on his meaningful words and soothing voice.

The funny thing is that no one is more experienced in the art of physical stillness than those of us with ME/CFS, for whom even mild exertion can have long-lasting dire consequences. When we feel bad, we are forced to lie in our beds and on our couches and recliners, while the rest of the world moves around us. But, we are just as prone to this absence of emotional stillness in the face of the constant onslaught of media and online distractions. For instance, anytime I am up and about, I have my earbuds in and am listening to audio books or podcasts (ironically, one of my favorite podcasts is the Slow Home Podcast, which advocates stillness!). I spend almost all day on my laptop and frequently check Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and e-mail. Even when I am crashed and stuck on the couch, I still often have my laptop balanced on my belly.

Though I don't practice a weekly digital Sabbath, as Iyer suggests, I have successfully incorporated stillness into my life in some limited ways. I cherish weekday mornings when I am in the house alone and it is completely quiet. No TV, no music, no iPod. Granted, I am still using my laptop but mostly using it to write, with my social media windows closed and no external sounds, except the chimes on my porch and birdsong out my window. That quiet time is rejuvenating. I put my laptop away by 7:30 each evening. This is not entirely still time because my husband and I watch TV and read together but it is at least free of online distractions and a time to just relax and focus on one thing only. And, of course, there is my afternoon nap - a sacred time that I never miss each day in my dark, quiet bedroom (earplugs and eye mask help!). Finally, several times a year, my husband and I go camping with our pop-up camper. The laptop stays home, there is no internet, and I don't own a smart phone. Those weekends or occasional weeks away are a complete respite from the electronic world and even from the distractions that Lindbergh spoke about. It's just the two of us, outdoors in nature (which is itself rejuvenating), with plenty of quiet time - a complete departure from my normal life!

There is definitely room in my life for more stillness, though. I should walk sometimes without the iPod (though I do use only one earbud so I can still hear the sounds of nature, but that's kind of cheating!) and give myself more time away from social media. I could definitely use some quiet stillness just to think, instead of always filling my quiet time with reading or writing or even copying down inspirational quotes!

I love Lindbergh's lyrical line: "...planting our solitude with our own dream blossoms." I think that is a worthy goal for all of us.

How do you find quiet solitude or stillness in your life? How do you escape the constant modern siren call of the digital world?

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