I’m Done With Distracted Living

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How can I become a student of silence when my husband and I can’t communicate until the three children splay out in strange formations in their beds at night? When my brain turns to mush at 8pm and all I want to do is read or watch TV?

Thudding feet find me before 6am, though I purposely wake up hours before the sun sprays the tops of the spruce trees with gold. One, often two, small people creep down to curl up on my ottoman or crush my journal, sometimes cuddling sweetly, tucking toes under my blanket, but usually not. Usually, there is begging, whining, pulling and patting until, defeated, I agree to prepare breakfast. And before my second cup of coffee, the littlest one calls from his crib.

I used to have nightmares about teaching class in my pajamas. That’s not too far from my current reality. I’m on duty before I’ve morphed into a whole human being. And parents never clock out.

Occasionally my husband and I do retreat for a night or two away and silence sits on my chest like a phantom friend. It pounds in my temples, chest and bones. It’s exquisitely terrifying in all its demands. I feel the need to produce, solve problems, and craft beautiful sentences when I don’t have three tow-headed excuses clinging to my knees. Silence has a heavy hand, but a light touch when it begins its deep tissue soul massage. In the end, I emerge from silence with a clearer head.

But then I am back to the constant rattling, tapping, calling and hollering.

An older friend once said, “You’ll miss the noise when they’re gone. Your house will be too silent.” Too silent? Is there such a thing as too much silence? I’ve forgotten. I know there’s such a thing as too much noise.

When I taught seventh grade, we used to read a dystopian story by Kurt Vonnegut where everyone is given handicaps so no one is more intelligent, beautiful, or talented than anyone else. People are discouraged from thinking (because thoughts are hazardous), so every few seconds their thoughts are interrupted by implants blasting music or radio announcements in their ears, distracting them from deep thinking.

Sometimes I secretly compare my children to those implants. And yet I know I cower behind my kids like a smokescreen, blaming them. The truth is that I put plenty of distractions in place even when I could plunge into silence. I could fold clothes in solitude, but choose the prattle of a podcast. I could run in the quiet of the misty dawn, but plug in to audio books. I could shower in peace, but prop the phone on the top of the shower door to fit in ten minutes of semi-intelligent adult voices (seriously). I sacrifice every potential sliver of silence to mind-numbing noise.

What am I so afraid of?

Maybe I’m afraid I’ll consider or reflect, ruminate or dream. Perhaps I’ll have to stop anesthetizing, rambling, and banging these drums and start listening. Maybe I’m afraid of what I’ll hear.

A friend recently recommended the book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. I wasn’t sure “success” was my goal, but I knew I needed more focus, less distraction and more deep work. The author, Cal Newport, said that “less mental clutter means more mental resources available for deep thinking.” He offered many practical tips for ridding ourselves of distractions, and I finished the book with new resolve.

Creating space for deep work means clearing the clutter we welcome into every potentially silent moment. Choosing undistracted living feels revolutionary in a world that caters to noise.

It hasn’t been long, but I’m experimenting with new ways to live less distracted. Instead of seeing my children as a nuisance, pulling me from my creative work, I want to give them focused, undistracted time with me, minus my screens. Instead of allowing social media to encroach on my every thought, I’ll decide when it can have a piece of me—and it’s not all the time. And instead of following every blinking screen promising peace, joy and love, I’m stopping to wait and see if it’s right for me. I don’t need to do all the things. I just need to do the essential things.

Deep thoughts are dangerous. Do we dare brush off the distractions and plunge to the depths this year? Do I? I’m going to try, but it means consciously turning off the noise and setting aside my fear of silence so I can dive down to the deeps where silence begins to sing its lovely song.

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What about you? How do you find silence in all the noise?

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Leslie Verner
Leslie Verner is a goer learning how to stay. Other cultures, spicy food, deep conversations, running, and sunshine feed her soul. She lives in Colorado with her husband and three kids. Leslie writes about faith, justice, family, and cross-cultural issues at Scraping Raisins and elsewhere on the web. Her first book Invited: The Power of Hospitality in an Age of Loneliness releases August 2019. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Leslie Verner
Leslie Verner

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