When my kids were still at home, our house was a . . . lively house. Kinda loud, you might even say. There was always a lot going on back then. Comings and goings. Door slams. Whining. Laughter. Yelling. TV noise. And music. Lots of music. (Not only were my kids musicians, so we were always treated to practice-sounds of singing and piano and trombone and drums and guitar, but we also had different music blaring from competing boomboxes all the time.) It was a cacophony. Always.
And, generally, I enjoyed it. I was used to it. But every once in a while I asked for silence. I’d tell my kids . . .
I need some space to hear myself THINK.
By contrast, my life is pretty quiet these days. Tom and I like silence (although I did miss the sounds of my kids and their music for a long, long time when it first stopped). We don’t turn on the TV unless we want to watch something. We play music on our speakers sometimes, but these days we mostly just listen on our own with our headphones. We don’t slam things. We don’t yell. (We do laugh a lot, though.)
But. Y’know what? Despite the quiet environment . . . I still need some space to hear myself THINK.
I’ve realized that my house might not be full of sound these days — but my head certainly is!
It’s so easy now . . . to listen . . . to something (an audiobook, a podcast, a class, a webinar) while . . . doing pretty much anything else. Who needs to attend to the mundane(ish) tasks at hand these days . . . when we can divide our attention and divert our boredom/tedium to something more entertaining – or at least something distracting? I’m certainly guilty. Audiobook-while-walking. Podcast-while-weeding. Painting-class-while-painting. Anything-while-knitting.
So I’ve been thinking . . . If I’m always filling my head with (at least) two competing “inputs” at the same time, how does that impact my being present in my own life? Could this constant multitasking have anything to do with why I feel more scattered and less able to attend to tasks? Maybe this is why I find it so much harder to focus on things?
I decided to check in and ask . . .
Am I giving myself enough space to hear myself THINK?
The thing is, there is so much information for us to take in these days. So. Much. And thanks to technology and our various devices, it’s ever easier to actually take it all in (even while we’re already doing something else). But I’m not sure that’s . . . a good thing. I’m convinced there’s a cost involved. Not only do I feel like I’ve been losing my ability to attend to whatever-task-at-hand, but I feel like I never have enough time – or the space – to actually process whatever it is I’m so busy “taking in” all the time!
Life is overwhelming these days (more than ever before, I believe) – and even more so when we try to cram everything in all at the same time. More information. More books. More podcasts. More news. More analysis. More shows. More. More. More.
It’s very loud in our heads, y’know?
What to do about it, though? Well . . . I was heartened by this real-life example from my own experience: Several years ago, I intentionally started reading fewer books (which, I know, is very counter to the more common goal of “reading more”). I felt like I was just becoming a “chain-reader” (y’know . . . “lighting” one book from the end of my last). I was struggling to process or absorb – let alone recall – what I’d just read. . . . before plunging into my next book. That simple change (reading less, not more) has enhanced my reading more than I ever imagined. It’s easy to get swept up in reading-all-the-books (or making-all-the-things or … fill in all-the-whatever here), but the simple truth is . . . there will never be enough time to do all the things we want to/wish to do. Ever. (No matter how much we multitask.)
So. A couple of months ago, I decided to do the equivalent of “reading less” for other inputs in my life. I set out to include more silence – more intentional quiet – in my life. To give myself over to just doing the task at hand. Without distraction. To build more space so I can hear myself think. I’ve given up having anything “in my ears” while cooking dinner. Or walking. Or folding laundry or weeding or wandering the aisles at my grocery store. I’m being really choosy about which audiobooks I listen to – and when I listen to them. And I’ve stopped listening to podcasts altogether.
And, yeah. It’s been really hard to make that happen. It’s quite an adjustment. But . . . you know what I’m discovering? I hear more birdsong. I notice more flowers. I’m free to paint what I want to paint. I am more aware of how my body is feeling while it moves. I’m putting loose ends together in my head. I’m . . . processing again.
Basically, I’ve given myself a little more space to think.
And I like it.
My solution has been more silence. More intentional . . . quiet.
Not all the time, but a little more of the time. . . and a lot more often.
Silence . . . designed to give me that little extra bit of space to think.
In order to see birds it is necessary to become part of the silence.
— Robert Lynd
Okay. So I had already written this post when I opened the New York Times on Saturday and found this op-ed by Oliver Burkeman (author of Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals). He’s kinda saying the same thing I just said. Only better. I’m “gifting” the article to you today, so if you click the link you’ll be able to read his words without encountering a paywall. (But only for a couple of weeks. After that, the link will not work unless you’re a NYT subscriber.)