You’ve Got To Fight For Your Right…To Quiet

When I was a kid, I remember the adults in our family constantly telling me not to babble. I never thought I talked incessantly, but I apparently opened my big yapper more than was desired by the grown ups.

Maybe that’s why I write…I have too much to say and not everyone wants to hear it. I think someone said that about Alexander Hamilton…he wrote like he was running out of time.

My kids suffer from the same affliction. There is nary a quiet moment in our house…in the car…at the dinner table… Singing, humming, pretending we’re an animal, character, homeless and parentless deer, gypsies….As Robert Stack of “Unsolved Mysteries” once said….it’s “an audio onslaught.”

Several times a week, I find myself saying, “Quiet your minds,” to my girls. Which is met with disdain.

“Why do you always say that?”
“Why can’t we talk?”
“Why can’t we sing?”

Don’t misunderstand me…make believe, pretending, singing, role play, creativity, and imagination is hardly discouraged. We have a karaoke machine that is used often (the morning announcements are recited with frequency), and our youngest has quite the drum set. Noise is not at a premium.

But just being still. Just listening….To the birds. To the wind. To the rain. Or to absolutely nothing at all. It’s a highly underrated activity.

Over the past several weeks — before spring catapults into summer and the air is consumed by humidity — I’ve kept the window in our bedroom open at night. Every early morning…like 4:45am early…the hungry (hangry?) birds start chirping. Which coincides with my nightly trip to the toilet. And even if I can’t fall right back asleep, I’ve found myself laying there in the darkness and soaking in the sounds of spring. It’s peaceful.

CBS Sunday Morning this week (which is a weird phrase in itself) had a segment about how rare it’s becoming to be able to sit in nature and go minutes, if not seconds, without hearing man-made intervention (think: a plane, car, motorcycle, 18-wheeler, ambulance, talking). You have to go deep into the woods to find that kind of solitude. Hours of hiking, even. And even then, you’re eventually going to hear a jet fly overhead. Even in places you’d normally equate with nature….Yellowstone, Shenandoah, Brice Canyon, Yosemite, Glacier, the White Mountains….you have to go off the beaten path in order to eliminate man-made sounds.

Perhaps that’s why the Man of Steel was so Super. He had the Fortress of Solitude.

That segment really made me think about how rare it’s becoming to hear uninterrupted natural sound. And how valuable it is to sometimes just sit outside and do nothing. Just sit. Listen. Watch.

Peanuts creator Charles Schulz realized this – having Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy, and Sally lay on the grass, their bodies forming a sort of dandelion-dampening X/Y axis, and just watch the clouds and observe the shapes.

When Sir Isaac Newton thought up the law of gravity, he wasn’t at a desk. Or in a lab. Or conferring with scholars. He was sitting under a tree by himself….allegedly daydreaming.

I told that story to my girls on the way to school a few weeks ago when they chided me for always telling them to quiet their minds.

The worn-out argument about too many screens, too much media, too hectic and busy lives, too scheduled….is exactly that. But it’s true.

I received an email this week from Baltimore County Public Schools, inviting me to attend a local school on May 2nd to watch a new documentary called “Screenagers.”  You know what it’s about.  Yikes.

Idle time is the devil’s playground.  Not if you ask J.K. Rowling.  She came up with the narrative to Harry Potter while she was sitting on the train to and from work every day as a struggling, single mother…staring out the window.  Not on her phone.  Not with earbuds in.  Not with her tablet.

John Muir and Henry David Thoreau were on to something. Captivated by nature and the natural beauty of the land…they understood its transformative and restorative powers.

And there is an increasing body of science that has validated their ahead-of-its-time perspective:

I’m reading a book called “The Power of Now.” I’ve only just started it; but it’s given me some decent tips about trying to recognize how I feel in the moment, and how to address things in a reasonable manner during emotional times. It’s tough though. It’s heady…and quite frankly, the lessons I’ve learned are probably the only ones I can actually comprehend from the damn thing.

And even as trendy as “mindfulness” is these days, I’m trying to appreciate “living in the moment” more.  (Maybe it’s also because I’m almost 35.)

Even a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, you could find big advocates of being present:

“All his life he looked away…to the future…to the past. Never his mind on where he was…What he was doing.”  — Yoda  

Quiet the mind.  It’s rather rewarding.


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