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Fleeing Happiness | 2017 | Some of Them Want to Be Used by You


Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.  

-Anne Lamott

Enjoy the Silence

There is always a lighthouse
Shh. I'm busy not doing anything.

We confuse a need for silence with spirituality, usually of an Eastern bend. That is not it as all. When I tell you to let yourself be in silence, you picture a dark room, a patchouli scented cushion under your lotus position, candles lighted at a safe remove. You picture yoga, meditation, months if not years of practice until you can finally truly appreciate the quiet. You picture window dressing and excuses for why you won't ever let yourself be silent.

No. Just, for a little while, shut the hell up. Disable your Wi-Fi, close your laptop, turn off your phone.

Should you read a book? No. That is noise.

Is this your opportunity to put on some soothing music and finally relax? No. Just shut up.

Do not take in any additional information. Let yourself simply be. Do not try to think about anything, consider your responsibilities, plan for your future. Process. If you need to mindlessly sew or walk somewhere unstimulating and familiar - both things I do because I have too much Puritan guilt to allow myself to do nothing - do that so long as you aren't taking great meaning from stitch work and falling leaves.

As always, I am the exact sort of person who needs this information, since I need to preach for a while before I get it in my head to practice. I would tell you I was largely relaxed and unburdened - despite having put myself into medical and psychological treatment for anxiety and depression - but all my leisure time is filled with new information. I go for runs and listen to podcasts about Russian mythology or the Bystander Effect, filling my head with more to process and giving myself no time in which to do the processing, then wonder why I felt no better when I returned home.

I would lay my head down to sleep and my brain would race through everything I had not been able to think about during the day. I cannot count how many nights I woke up at an ungodly hour and couldn't fall back to sleep because I had so much to think about and no four AM meditation technique could take that edge off.

I grant that I do not make time to be silent every day, but I do consider whether I need to be entertained or if I wouldn't be better served just letting myself be. Walking or driving without something talking to me is an unnerving experience. My attention is finite and I see more without sound. (You instinctively know this or why else would you turn down the radio when you are lost?) My mind peeks out from behind my brain, tentatively sits, and begins talking to itself to suss out what it had been thinking, feeling, and noticing.

Our ancestors, even recent ones, were not beset on all sides by entertainment. Maybe they were more composed because of this, less anxious or depressed. Not all, but some of our modern mental unease might be a reaction of the fact that we do not let our marvelous brains have any downtime to figure things out. We consider the past, all the great minds, and we are usually thinking about people who were in quiet, who were bored, for whom entertainment was a choice and not a default state. People who got so much done before we even get around to finish scrolling through our social media. How we consume our bread and circuses through an IV drip in our pockets is unnatural, no matter if it is also fun and convenient. We are the metaphorical rats, pushing the bar that gets us another hit, only each press makes us demonstrably less happy.

There is no question that one of my biggest problems, psychologically if not socially, is that I think too much, but the cure might be as simple as giving myself space to just not have to think. My brain isn't going to stop being too speedy, but I can give it a track and time to just rev, then downshift.

This is why I have always been a creature of epiphanies, because giving me the solution whole is usually the only way I am going to be able to see it. I won't let myself have anything piecemeal because it is not an instantaneous process of intellectual gratification.

We are so anxious as a culture or why would fidget spinners be the popular new toy? We are overscheduled and overworked to earn rewards we never allow ourselves the space and time to enjoy. Quiet is in our DNA and we ignore it at our definite peril. We as individuals suffer, as well as the lifestyle of our country suffers or why would we have elected an unfiltered Type-A personality who rules by 4am tweet? Our leader's mind - whatever we may think of its contents - is unquiet. This constant racing gets us nowhere we should want to be, run into the ground so hard we find it our grave.

All the noise, this obscene lack of silence does not let us prioritize the information we want and need to receive. Everything swarms for our attention and we don't know enough to hush them so we can comprehend what was said.

I don't want to credit to malevolence what can be claimed by human folly, but I do take personally anything stealing away from my one and precious life. I spent an adolescence avoiding alcohol, drugs, and dangerous sports because I valued my mind too much to take the gamble, so why give it away to a bombardment of cognitive static? Just a few minutes a day letting myself heave a breath without Ira Glass narrating it.

There is a place for the cavalcade of information. It would burst in, guns blazing, if I tried to shut it all out entirely, but I would rather it be a mindful choice. That only comes by deciding when it cannot be. Without intentional silence, even music becomes noise.

Soon in Xenology: Underutilization. Infinite consequences. Abuse.

last watched: IT
reading: Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang
listening: Regina Spektor

Fleeing Happiness | 2017 | Some of Them Want to Be Used by You

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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