Once, when my son was very young and very sick, I wriggled into bed with him to sing to him. Well into my second verse Connor’s fevered eyes opened and stared at me. I stopped singing because his look was so intent. After several seconds of gazing he said, “I don’t want the sound of you Mommy, I just want you.” Enough said. I got quiet.
How often I forget these words when things are hard, when my insides are stirred, or when others need comfort. How rarely are my responses to self and other born out of a still silence, a quiet readiness.
Quiet is hard to come by these days. No longer do we plough the field that sits miles from our neighbor, grind the wheat in our isolated single room home, or go to bed when it gets dark. Instead we pop in our earbuds, instantly chat while doing our homework, surf while watching Oprah, and light up our nights with screens of all kinds. While we are filling up our moments we are neglecting our souls.
We are a lonely people, I believe. Some of us are lonely for others, some for roles and responsibilities we no longer fill, some for our pasts, some for places. I believe that all of us share, however, a deep and growing loneliness regarding our inner most beings. As the external demands and opportunities for distraction have grown, our discipline regarding quiet, stillness, spiritual reflection, and solitude (in its truest and healthiest forms) has shrunk. Silence is squeezed out of our day to day existence and we are lonely for our selves.
I am often shocked by how out of touch with my deepest core I can become in an instant. I am distracted in prayer, my mind wanders when I meditate, I can’t finish a task without thoughts of seven others breaking through. In these moments it could be easy to convince myself to pop in my ipod and listen to a lecture, use a guided prayer or meditation podcast, or work to perfect the art of multi-tasking. If I resort to these things, however, I am training myself to be still only to the sound of the voice of another or the calling of my culture. While neither of these things are terrible they do nothing to acquaint me with my biggest detractor (and possible helper)...myself.
Quiet stillness isn’t always easy for me. I “use it” as a space within which to beat myself up, to indulge in fantasies of grandeur, and to plan days that are so insanely packed that I can’t keep up with myself. Even still, however, when I do not practice sitting still or giving my mind room to roam it is obvious. I am out of step with myself, my God, and my deepest values. On the flip side, when I do practice the discipline of quiet attending it makes all the difference in the world.
Wherever you are, grab a snack. Gobble down a mouthful of it. Now, take a moment to take a breath, quiet yourself, then take another bite and attend to that which you are eating. Really pay attention. What does it feel like? Taste like? How does it linger? What does your mouth feel like when you are done? Now do this with your soul, your self, your inner most being. Take a moment. Be still. Pay attention. What do you hear? What do you see? What do you feel? Notice. Attend. Keep trying.
Sometimes the sound of us is the last thing we need. Ranking at the bottom of the list are also the sounds of culture, of status quo, and of the habitual speed at which we move. Perhaps today, right now, in this very moment you can find a way to want just you...not the sound...just you.