Take a deep breath—a real one: in through the nose; hold it for a few seconds; out through the mouth. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Felt good, didn’t it? When’s the last time you took a moment to do that—to breathe deliberately, with purpose—to really taste the air? I need to remind myself sometimes. A lot of times, honestly. With classes, and assignments, and music practices, and jobs, and food shopping, and eating, and laundry, and worrying about the future, and ignoring the future, and (occasionally) sleeping—I often forget who I am in between the rampant hustle and endless bustle. As my father would say, “People have forgotten how just to be.” Although lacking the clichéd “back in my day,” I used to dismiss his griping as the growing pains that accompanied his aging hippie sensibilities. Now that I myself am older, however, and “real life” is nipping at my résumé, I frequently find myself so diligently tending the garden that I often forget to stop and smell the proverbial roses.
This admittedly self-indulgent, New-Age-sounding introspection comes on the heels of a startling discovery I made yesterday, the Saturday before Thanksgiving. As I walked down the street, minding my own business, I was suddenly met with a horrifying sight. There, hanging lazily from a street lamp, was an enormous ornamental wreath decked with boughs of holly—fa-la-la-la-la, and so on and so forth. It sagged in the air like a giant, festive, evergreen doughnut, gaudy and out-of-place among the trees that had yet to give up the ghost and blow their coats. It filled me with dread.
I’d like to pause briefly for clarification: the holidays are a joyous time for many, including myself. They’re about good food, good family, and good times. I cherish the opportunity to visit home, to see old friends, and to save $2.60 on laundry.
But the question remains—why the hurry? With Turkey Day still looming large on the horizon, people seem to be preemptively two steps ahead; they’re dusting off the stockings and fishing the plastic tree out of the garage before the apple pie has had a chance to cool. At what point did even our culture become too busy to take things a day at a time? Some people’s reflex would be to blame consumerism—an understandable reaction, given that I myself will be spending Black Friday huddled up in my house with visions of aggressive shoppers dancing in my head. But I think the issue lies deeper than that. The desire to fill our lives with busywork or store-bought tchotchkes stems from a certain fear—that is, a fear of quietness. If every waking instant is jam-packed with chasing deadlines, or toying with the latest inevitably-obsolete piece of iPlastic, then we never have to confront the looming silence that stalks our periphery. It awaits its chance to seep into our cracks, to force us to take a hard look at ourselves in the tinsel-trimmed mirror.
As a culture, we have to take a step back for sanity and for self. We can’t hope to navigate the wide world if we never first explore ourselves. This should not be taken as a condemnation of a life well-lived; every day should be cherished like it’s our last, and we should use our time to its fullest. But equally important are those moments in between the moments. Silence is a rapidly-waning commodity that’s worth its weight in gold. To be able to take a step back and reflect is a dwindling prospect that must be nurtured, not extinguished. Quiet should be welcomed for its solace, not feared for its emptiness.
I write this post somewhat ironically, knowing that it comes largely from a place of hypocrisy; I’m as bad as anyone at biting off more than I should ever even attempt to chew. And although I’m far from the misty-mountaintop guru that I aspire to be, here is a list of a few things, gleaned from minds wiser than my own, that might help people—myself included—keep life in perspective and pin down those fleeting moments of quiet that disappear as quickly as they appear:
A) Crying doesn’t un-spill the milk – Although a time-worn proverb, it remains apt. Worrying is a fruitless affair. It eats us from the inside, and leaves holes in our stomach to be filled with more worry. Time spent fretting over things out of our control should be used to reflect instead. Worrying produces unnecessary anxiety, which serves only to fuel the overburdened nature of our lives, and hinders us from appreciating the moments of downtime that we so need.
B) Never run for a bus; there will always be another – I stole this one from Mel Brooks. We do ourselves no favors when we manufacture tension in our own lives. Another way of putting it: a missed opportunity is not the end of the world. There will always be another bus around the corner, no matter how amazing the former was, double-decker and all. If we focus on those opportunities that slip away from us, we’re tempted to overcompensate, and thus run ourselves ragged. Instead, we must slow down and put things back into perspective.
C) Tranquility within consists in the good ordering of the mind – Taken from the meditations of Marcus Aurelius, he certainly hits the nail on the head. When we become preoccupied with the external, we forget to take care of the internal. Regardless of how many tasks we can juggle, until we reorder our minds we can never achieve tranquility. This can be done only by embracing simplicity and relishing stillness and quiet.
So the next time you’re feeling overwhelmed by school, or holidays, or life in general—the next time you’re considering cramming and a means of coping—seek out the silence, instead; enjoy it like a deep breath of fresh air.