Words, voices, noise

Thursday, 22 May 2014

I've always hated silence.

At some point during my teenage years, something changed in me, and I couldn't sleep without the TV on. I had a purple TV/video player for my thirteenth birthday, and I remember slotting in an old tape of Friends and rewinding it, knowing I'd be asleep before it finished. I'd wake up at some point in the early hours of the morning to a screen full of static, and if I was tired enough, I'd switch it off. If I was more awake, I'd rewind it and start it again.

I remember trying to cut back on it. But I couldn't go to sleep without it. And it wasn't like I was afraid of the dark, exactly. I was afraid of the silence. It wasn't to drown out particularly horrible thoughts either ( the most I usually worried about was homework and whether or not I could pull off blue eyeshadow*).

I just came to need it. My brain refused to switch off without it. I wasn't watching it, either, although I'm sure some subconcious part of me was absorbing it because I have a Friends quote for pretty much every situation life throws at me, and sometimes huge chunks of dialogue float around in my head, word-for-word perfect. In fact, it was scenes from Friends that I focused on in the beginning stages of labour. Is that weird? Anyway, I'm going off on a tangeant here.


Good times.

The point was I needed some sort of white noise. Some sort of activity for me to be able to relax.

I realise that this was really bad for me, and I've since read articles about how electronic devices should be banned from bedrooms because they interfere with healthy sleep. I know that. And yet it took years - and during that time, a bout of horrendeous insomnia that saw me awake every night until 3 or 4 in the morning - for me to switch off. Now I can't sleep with noise or lights, but sometimes I still find it hard to switch off.

And I still feel a little uncomfortable with silence.

Sometimes I wonder how it will be for children who are growing up now. In the midst of fast technology and a much faster pace. In a society that sometimes, to me, seems so harsh that it's almost (twistedly) dangerous to hold onto innocence for too long in case you are taken advantage of. In a world where more and more children are becoming addicted to the internet. In a world where 43% of children aged 9-13 have Facebook. Where toddlers are becoming so addicted to iPads they require therapy. There are studies being done on the effects of technology on childhood learning, development, and thought processes. The technology that we have on our hands might be amazing (as I've written about before) but it's also addictive. And the affects of all this bombardment on a young brain are still being discovered.

I wonder. I wonder if my need to fall asleep with electronics for a pretty big chunk of my later childhood has affected my need to have noise around me now. I wonder if the fact that I find it hard to focus on one thing for a long period of time is something to do with the increase of technology in my life. I wonder if my ability to flick from one thing to the next, to consume one fact after the other, to be able to sift through masses of information, discarding what I don't want to know and briefly absorbing what I do want to know, is actually hurting me.

Because rarely can I be still. Rarely can I look at something for a long period of time and just focus on it.

I walked our sleeping baby around the park yesterday while we waited for Daddy to be done at the dentist. It was a particularly beautiful park, not the one right by our house, and I was enjoying the huge leafy canopy of trees above me. I thought about how nice it would be to just sit and look at it for a while while the baby slept.

I think I managed to look at the trees for about three seconds before the thoughts began.

What will we eat for dinner? What will I cook for the baby? How will I catch up with my homework for Bible study tomorrow? (Sorry Paula). Whose birthdays are coming up? When will I be able to learn to drive? When will I be able to get some time to go out and sort out the garden? Or, more accurately, when will my Mum be able to come over and sort it out for me? What will we do for Chris for Father's day? Which charity shop will take all of our stuff? When will I hear back from the blimming tax office?

Etc. Etc. Etc. Boring everyday stuff and nonsense and I can't switch off from it.

I can't let go of it. Not for one minute.

This has been bothering me a lot recently. Psalm 131 says this:

'My heart is not proud, O Lord, my eyes are not haughty.
I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.
But I have stilled and quietened my soul;
like a weaned child with its mother,
like a weaned child is my soul within me.'

I like that thought. Of an older child, a child still young, but old enough not to need something every single moment of every day (Baby B's 'need' right now? To climb all over me and desperately reach to pull my hair). A child contented, safe, with the person that makes them feel safe and secure and loved, without a care, without a thought of anything else, just sitting. Being.

When was the last time I stopped and just appreciated the fact that I am alive? When was the last time I sat and felt it - breaths in and out, heart beating, body working. Alive. When was the last time I stopped to appreciate that?

When was the last time I stopped to think about what's happening around me? I took Baby B to the park the other day, very early in the morning, so early we could see school children taking a short cut and people walking their dogs before work. When we were done with the swings, done with a break for a drink of water, done with reading books on the bench, I lifted her up and asked her. What can she see? What can she hear?

And I stopped to think about it. Just for a moment. I told her what I could see. What I could hear. And I watched her looking around.

I hope I can teach her that. I hope I can teach her to take a moment to catch a breath. To pause. To take a break from noise and distractions and just be still.

I am currently flicking through 'Celebration of Discipline' by Richard Foster. It's one of those books that I like to read little bits of because there's so much wisdom packed into every chapter, and I don't want to skip over it or miss it. One of the chapters is called the Discipline of Solitude. It speaks about our fear of being alone, and how that draws us to people, but also draws us to noise and crowds and a constant stream of something. He explains the Biblical principle behind withdrawing from crowds and noise, that being alone can expose us more to God, and can also help us to be more sensitive, more compassionate, and more available for others. Then he takes you through some practical things you can do to get into this habit.

He says this:

'The first thing we can do is to take advantage of the 'little solitudes' that fill our day. Consider the solitude of those early morning moments in bed before the family awakens (bloggers note: obviously he's talking about a family that isn't awoken by a hungry baby at 6 every morning...heh). Think of the solitude of a morning cup of coffee before beginning the day. There is the solitude of bumper-to-bumper traffic during the rush hour ... find new joy and meaning in the walk from the subway to your apartment. Slip outside just before bed and taste the silent night.'

Yes, there are times. There are moments. There are pauses. I believe there can be breaks for everyone. For someone working 50 hours a week with long commutes. For a single mother working hard with multiple kids waiting to be fed, bathed and put to bed at the end of each day. For those that run their own businesses and never switch off from it, for those who are giving their heart and soul to the needy in their communities, for those multi-tasking to the extreme (right now I am writing this whilst scooping out the fleshy insides of a sweet potato and shovelling it into my expectant daughters' mouth, and immediately afterwards I will be taking the laptop into the kitchen to finish it whilst cooking pasta for us before we go out to see friends. Not the ideal way to do dinner times, but some days are just like this).

There are moments to just be quiet. To wriggle your toes and take a deep breath and just take in what's happening around you. I want to claim back the ability to do that. I don't want modern society to make me forget how to just be alive without having to process information and opinions and noises constantly.

So. Ironically, I've got to wrap this up because we're busy, but I'd like to know your thoughts. Is anyone else like me in their avoidance of silence and stillness? Do you think it's important to learn to sit and do nothing? Am I talking a load of nonsense? Comments are muchly appreciated :) and maybe I'll write more about this later.

* The answer, by the way, was no. I could not pull off blue eyeshadow.

2 comments:

  1. Oh my goodness, this is something I battle with SO much. I hate silence, I have an innate need to want to fill it and I struggle beyond belief to be still, to not be doing twenty things at once. I actually read this post whilst waiting for a youtube video to buffer, planning my day tomorrow, writing a list...all in bed fully aware that I could have done with being asleep a couple of hours ago! So NO you are not alone and YES this spoke to someone.

    God has been trying to teach me this for years and hopefully now I will begin to take the time to listen, to slow down, to take a pause, to breathe, to do the seemingly impossible and just be. Thanks, hun xx

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  2. Wow, it's so good to know I'm not the only one! I have to multitask all the time. It's become hard to concentrate on one thing. So glad that I'm not just going mad, lol.

    Hoping for some time out this week ... just to sit and do nothing. I expect I won't enjoy it at least to start with ...

    Maybe it's worth having a 'no electronics after 9pm' rule or something! ;) x

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