Cultivating Quiet

To increase happiness, I made a commitment in January to practice silence by minimizing noise and negativity of all sorts.

Since then, I’ve given myself permission to turn off the car radio when there isn’t a song that moves me. Music off, I get to sit with my thoughts for the duration of the drive—and struggle to quiet the voices in my head. So many imaginary conversations or arguments, complaints I will never speak, apologies I will never hear. Rehearsing what I might say, rehashing what I could have said, reimagining the route conversations should have gone…

Banishing imaginary conversation partners, I still have to contend with my own voice. Harmful self-talk, the comparison game, the voice Julia Cameron of The Artist’s Way calls the Censor, “a nasty internal and eternal critic” who “blurts…a steady stream of subversive remarks.”

I picked up a book from the library with the intriguing title 10% Happier. In the preface, ABC News anchor Dan Harris writes about his own inner voice:

I’m talking about the internal narrator, the most intimate part of our lives. The voice comes braying in as soon as we open our eyes in the morning, and then heckles us all day long with an air horn. It’s a fever swamp of urges, desires, and judgments. It’s fixated on the past and the future, to the detriment of the here and now. It’s what has us reaching into the fridge when we’re not hungry, losing our temper when we know it’s not really in our best interest, and pruning our inboxes when we’re ostensibly engaged in conversation with other human beings. Our inner chatter isn’t all bad, of course. Sometimes it’s creative, generous, or funny. But if we don’t pay close attention—which very few of us are taught how to do—it can be a malevolent puppeteer.

I anticipate this wrangling to achieve peace-filled silence will be a lifetime effort. With practice, it has gotten easier. Practice, prayer, writing, even exercise have all helped. With continued diligence, it should become even easier.

During different seasons, involving more or less stress, the noise will obviously ebb and flow. Sometimes I anticipate I will avoid the inner noise by turning up the volume on exterior noise. Or I may have to, for a time, engage the imaginary conversations as a means to keeping peace, maintaining my sanity, and excising my own demons.

I remain committed to cultivating, even enjoying, the silence, speaking kindly to myself, hushing the blurts. Still, be still.

 

Hush.

It’s been a quiet week. While C19 has been away at college, Guy has been leading a house-building trip in Mexico for 250 high school students and adults, and Q13 has been travelling England and France, I have been at home, working and walking dogs.

I don’t mind. I had been looking forward to this week of quiet with an almost physical longing. I planned to deep dive in quiet, to enter into projects I never seem to get to or, if I do, have more than 20 minutes to devote at a time.

Not long ago, I reread that passage from Luke 1 where the angel strikes Zechariah mute because of his disbelief that he and Elizabeth would finally have the baby for which they’d longed for too many years. I can’t imagine being physically unable to speak for nine months. I’ve had the occasional bout of laryngitis for a few days, but even then I managed to whisper or squeak my point across.

Still, this week wasn’t as quiet as I’d anticipated. Twice a day (until the weather turned) I took the dogs to the park where I chatted with church acquaintances and park ‘regulars,’ most of whom I know by “Robin’s dad” or “Maya’s mom,” the names of their dogs carrying different weight than their own in this setting. I met friends at a movie, a comedy show, and a concert, an unusual amount of activity for this homebody. I talked on the phone with my mom and my mother-in-law. I ran a few errands.

I took the quiet to a different level by not trying to fill it with noise. I watched only the TV shows I’d decided to watch in advance (Jesus Christ Superstar and the last several episodes of This is Us, both excellent). I left the car stereo off. It was a discipline, for sure, but I resisted the urge. Somehow, it felt important.

As always, my To Do list was overly ambitious and I cannot cross off everything. But I got some things done and, most importantly, moved forward a project that required from me a stringent focus.

In the quiet, I noticed a few things:

The words I shared with others felt to me differently significant, breaking silence like breaking bread.

I like the hubbub of family life and neighborhood. Some quiet is good, and balance is necessary.

I am grateful for nurtured relationships with friends, neighbor friends and park friends and friends with whom to share different types of events.

This experience of quiet will help me appreciate the gift of spoken word, of shared daily life, of relationships. What a gift!

Quieting Our Souls: Solitude

So many shades of blue

So many shades of blue

Born and raised in SoCal, most of my life has been lived within 20 minutes of the coast.

Until now, when the coast is at best 30 minutes away and at worst, an hour+.

I have noticed lately an intense craving to be near the water. The local reservoirs, and the two or three hikes within sight of them, come close but not quite. I need to see, hear, smell salt water lapping shore, sea gulls squawking overhead, and feel sand between my toes.

Yes, oh yes, but it's not the ocean

Yes, oh yes, but it’s not the ocean

Happy beach dogs

Happy beach dogs

The beach invites me into solitude, a reminder of God’s Great-Big-ness and my comparable insignificance. And yet, I am loved and held and cared for by the God who created such overwhelming beauty.

beach invitation

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

Beach sound quiets my soul. Meanwhile, I strain to hear beach sound while the noise of life grows clamorous. I crave solitude.

My personality inclines itself to solitude but it doesn’t always come easy. When Teen was a toddler I read that those with my personality type need an hour or more of solitude each day to maintain emotional health – I squawked in laughter like my sea gull friends! How does a mom of littles get even a few minutes of solitude? Gracious me, I was lucky if I could shut the bathroom door without a child in there with me!

As the kids get older you do get some of your own life back (hope for my mom-of-littles friends!), and solitude becomes a more achievable goal. Gym time, walking the dog, silence rather than radio in the car (often on the way to pick up a kid or a carpool – silence until the kids get in the car, and then they’re so noisy they often don’t notice the music isn’t on, and I get to eavesdrop on their chatter), and a big YAY for uninterrupted writing time.

I get a little Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs when I haven’t had enough solitude. This quote from Ruth Haley Barton’s Invitation to Solitude and Silence sums it up well:

“I try to run into God’s arms and give myself to his embrace, but I am holding lots of stuff, and it gets in the way. The baggage I am carrying makes me clumsy and hard to hug” (p45).

Clumsy and hard to hug – I don’t know how to hug myself, let alone anyone else, until I have sorted through my soul’s detritus with Jesus.

So here’s to finding small and big ways to include time for solitude in the schedule!

Connect
Where do you go to be alone, and why?

Study
Read aloud Mark 6:31-34, 45-57.
Describe the situation in which Jesus invites His disciples to come away. What did He intend for them (vv. 31-32)?
Jesus’ plans for solitude were interrupted by the crowd. How did He handle it (vv. 33-34)?What did Jesus do when He finally got away (v. 46)?

Live
Does the idea of solitude thrill or threaten you? Explain.
How is the spiritual practice of solitude like/unlike simply being alone?
What ‘noise’ keeps you from quieting your soul, and what can you do to turn down the volume?
When have you experienced a “crowd” in your solitary place? How did you handle it?
How could solitude focus your prayers and help you seek God?
Which Faith Training Exercises have you tried recently? Share joys and struggles. Which exercises might God call you to this week, and why?
What is Jesus saying to you through this passage and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that God will use your spiritual training to make you fit in new ways for Christ.

birds

“Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (Psalm 46:10).