In the last few months, my world has gotten loud. In any given day, I will listen to music, and to podcasts on my way to and from work. I will use my laptop to watch reruns while I do chores, and then I will watch an episode (or two or three) of one of the great television shows I’m working through. I will check Twitter, and Facebook, and Buzzfeed, and then underneath my fingertips, there will be a photo essay on Hardwick shepherds in England’s Lake District that is so beautiful it makes me ache. I am an enthusiastic consumer. The stuff that you can get your hands on is incredible. I spend my days immersing myself in this wealth of artwork and information, and most nights, I feel like I got a little more out of the day.
But lately, I’ve been crawling into bed, and my ears hurt from the quiet of the nighttime. Before this becomes a diatribe against the digital age, let me say this: I love how many access points I have, literally, on my cell phone. As a writer, it’s like a mainline to magic, but I think I’ve reached a point where I’ve gotten myself too immersed. Connected to the point that what was once inspiring is now inundating. Just last week, I was reading, and found myself unable to hear the words on the page until I turned on instrumental music to drown out my crowding thoughts. I needed a distraction to distract myself from my own distractions.
That level of internal noise is frightening to me.
The mind and the body need quiet, and stillness. They need stimulation too, but with one, you have to have the other. I have always been far too good at consuming constant stimulation without giving myself any stillness, and it’s now starting to show its wear. I am more distracted than I want to be, worn out, too quickly frustrated by slipups in my grand plan. (I don’t want to think about how my consumption is showing itself on my relationships.) What this is all pointing me towards, (and what I’ve been thinking of all the more since I read this stunning request), is that I need to begin to slow down, quiet myself.
In the right moment, the idea of doing this, this intentional backing away, feels dangerous and subversive. I keep asking myself what will I miss if I choose not to consume? What will I miss if I choose to be quiet? Choose to be still? Choose to be alone, or choose to be present? What will I miss if I don’t?
Here’s what I know I want: I want to see and know the people in front of me deeply. I want to feel more readily connected with the present (already difficult for me, because of the anxiety that is as constant as my heartbeat). I want deep joy and meaning in my experiences, and in what I read, or listen to, or watch. I want to write wildly. I want to be still, and to be quiet, and I want to feel the deep stirrings of the human soul—the need to love, to give, to create. I want to live along the pipeline that puts me into direct friendship, relationship, with my Creator, God. If I’m not making space in my life to seek out these things, or I’m allowing my noisy consuming to eat away at rest and quiet and thought, then I’m endangering myself. I’m endangering the most precious pieces of my life (all things I can’t consume: love, family, friendship, creativity and creation).
I’m not giving up my digital life, or giving up television, or my cell phone. I like these things, and none of it is evil. Indeed much of it is astounding—Jason Isbell’s Southeastern, this podcast where Sherman Alexie and Jess Walters record themselves talking about writing, Better Call Saul. This is beautiful stuff. Instead, what I am going to do—going to try to do—is back away from the excess of it. Learn to be “master of all, and slave to none.” I’m going to try to listen to my body, and hear for the times that I need stillness, quiet prayer, learn to recognize my body’s rhythms and rests. I’m going to try to stop passively consuming junk, and start unsubscribing from podcasts that I only half listen to, start turning off the music I don’t like. I’m going to try to choose more wisely what I do consume, so that when it comes time to produce, I have more of myself to pour out, and less of everything else to sift through. I’m going to try to move through the world with a little more intentionality. Stop trying to throw my arms around all of it, all at once, and start cultivating my ability to experience radically.