To prepare for my year of silence, I recently checked out several books from the library on this subject. I wanted to see how others have benefited from prolonged silence in their own lives – what lessons they learned, what insights they gleaned, and how they were changed because of it. I guess I wanted to see what I could expect (even though I realize that we’re all different and no two experiences will ever be the same).
So I stacked the pile of books on top of my lap, settled into my extra comfortable couch, had my hot cup of chai tea next to me, my soft blanket on top of me, and I began to read.
And then I noticed something: each time I picked up a book and started reading, my finger would immediately go under the next page to be ready to flip it over when the time came. It didn’t matter that it would be several minutes before I would be ready to turn the page – my finger was prepared. And I found that this little habit achieved two things: 1. It sped up my reading. As silly as it seems, I somehow felt that I didn’t want to keep my finger waiting – that I should hurry up and finish the page in order to be able to turn it. But then the page would turn, and my finger would immediately prepare itself to turn the next page. 2. I wasn’t fully present with the words that I was reading because a large part of me was focused on needing to quickly turn the page.
It was a cycle that went on and on and on. And I started to feel a bit anxious, and I could feel my breathing begin to constrict and my heart begin to speed up. The irony certainly wasn’t lost on me that I was reading a bunch of books about slowing down into life’s natural rhythm.
After taking a few minutes to breathe into this moment, I was able to find the humor in it – the absurdity of it. I realized that I’m so used to overscheduling myself that saving this micro second of time made perfect sense to me in that moment. I’m so used to being in this never-ending cycle of doing and busyness that I’m having to re-learn how to be in the moment and enjoy the moment and not try to rush the moment.
For so many years, I’ve looked at “downtime” as inefficient. I’ve read so many articles featuring lifehacks to help us save time in one way or another. And I’ve clearly taken all of this to heart.
We live in a culture that has sped up so quickly over the last couple of decades that I’m sure we’re all still trying to get our bearings. I’m certainly not immune to wanting to cram as many tasks into my day and fill up every second of time by checking things off.
For years, I prided myself on being the queen of filling up space: “I finished this project five minutes early – that’s just enough time to respond to one more email or check off one more to-do.” When boiling water on the stove, I would bring in my laptop so I could be working while I waited for it. While waiting for one website to load, I would flip to a new tab and start loading another so there wouldn’t be any downtime.
All of this “efficiency” was supposed to improve my life, and I started to wonder why I wasn’t feeling happy. I was actually feeling hurried and rushed and always metaphorically out of breath. I started to wonder whether I was running toward something with all of this hurrying or running away from something. I figured it was most likely a little of both – either of which made me sad because no matter which it it was, I was completely missing the present moment.
I truly believe that awareness brings change. (It’s hard to change what we just don’t know, right?) And so, here’s what I would like my life to look like moving forward:
I would like to enjoy the process of boiling water. Even though we’ve all heard that a watched pot never boils, I want to watch it anyway. I want to really notice the steam rising off of the water and see the tiny bubbles turn into bigger bubbles.
I want to finish a project five minutes early and spend that five minutes in whatever moment I’m in. I want to look up, look around, and notice – really notice – what’s happening in my world.
I want to enjoy reading and enjoy every word that I read – not thinking about when the page will need to be turned, not hurrying up because I want to get to the end. Just reading and enjoying and allowing myself to be in that moment.
I want to slow down time rather than speed it up. And I have a strong feeling that the way to do this is to be present. Truly present.
Efficiency and lifehacks and timesavers of all kinds have their place, and I’m definitely not saying we should stop using them. But when we feel hurried by them and stressed out because of them, I think it’s a good idea to take a look at that and consciously decide if they are helping or hindering our present moment.
That’s what I’ll be doing. And I encourage you to as well.
Hugs and love,