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Silence — It takes Practice

Many decades ago I planned my day out — every 15 minutes.  I was ecstatic about the fact that I knew what I would be doing every minute of the day. No matter what happened, I made sure I was doing exactly what my minute-to-minute schedule dictated.  You can imagine the stress and anxiety I created for myself — but I felt so productive.  

A few years later I was scooped up by a mentor 30 years older than me who understood the value of silence.  She practiced silence well and reaped the benefits of margins in her life.  She wanted that for me.  Her plan for introducing silence into my life: Saturday, 6:30 AM, her living room, sit in silence, 15 minutes.  Since I was new at practicing silence, she suggested I repeat some kind of mantra that was encouraging, inspiring, comforting — whatever I choose.  At 6:30 on Saturday morning, I sat silently in her living room repeating to myself, “Don’t fall asleep. Don’t fall asleep. STAY AWAKE. STAY AWAKE. Don’t fall asleep. Don’t fall asleep.”  Six months later, that was still my mantra. My first attempt to practice silence was a complete failure.  

In a thirty year study, sociologist found that Americans are actually working fewer hours today than the workers of the 1960s, but feeling as if we’re working more.  We are running at top speed but never feel like we are catching up.  Part of that overload comes from the massive amount of information we access daily.  A small book that can be read in one sitting is more information than existed in the Library of Congress just a few centuries ago.  Another part of our overwhelm comes from constant interruptions.  Scientists have found that it takes an average of twenty-five minutes to recover from a phone call.  We experience those kind of interruptions every 11 minutes.  No wonder we never feel like we are catching up.

Peace of mind comes from looking within. “All the unhappiness of men,” the seventeenth-century philosopher Blaise Pascal noted, “arises from one simple fact: that they cannot sit quietly in their chamber.”   Being still is the most practical way to work through confusion.  The TED book The Art of Stillness states, "It's only by taking myself away from clutter and distraction that I can begin to hear something out of earshot and recall that listening is much more invigorating than giving voice to all the thoughts and prejudices that keep me company. . ."  Start practicing silence by taking a few minutes out of every day to sit quietly and do nothing.  Silence clears our heads, quiets our emotions and gives us new perspective.


Secrets from a Legend

The Kennedy Center Honors pay tribute to artistic legends who have made lasting impact on culture and society. Among this year's honorees is James Taylor, a five-time Grammy-winner who has sold more than 100 million records in his career.  Featured on the cover of Time Magazine on March 1, 1971 as the face of new rock, he was often referred to as the first music superstar of the 70s.  Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000, at the age of 67 he produced his first number one album.

When questioned on CBS This Morning by Norah O’Donnell about the timing of his first number one album, he simply said he’s learned he needs a few days of quiet in order to tap into his creativity.  After several days of stillness, the magic happens.  A quick study of James Taylor reveals some beautiful secrets, chief among them is the understanding that ideas, creativity, artistry only come after silence, quiet, stillness. When we’re hurting for ideas, Taylor wisdom would suggest we haven’t been quiet for long enough.  

Test this idea by watching the people around you who are in a frenzy, hurried, panicked.  Does anything phenomenal come from that frenzy? Anything original, creative, new?  Also, keep an eye on those people you see as creatives, the idea people, the ones full of artistry.  What kind of margins do they have in their life — space, quiet, silence?  From the observation of people in your world, does Taylor know the secret?

The more obvious secret Taylor exposes is to keep showing up.  Taylor wrote his first song at the age of 14.  Taylor gave us music we all adore, music we can sing every word to, music that evokes emotion and he did it for decades.  It was only after 53 years of writing music that he gave us a number one album.  When you’re not sure what the next step is, keep showing up! Perseverance is a key to success.  

Take a few lessons from James Taylor into 2017, not to mention a whole bunch of good music.


Stillness in the Commotion

We live in an on-demand culture.  It’s hard to find a person who doesn’t carry a computer in their pocket that can access the world.  In that kind of society, we expect more from how fast our food is prepared to how quickly we can find the definition of a word we’ve never heard to a car that will drive for us.  At the same time we are making these demands, we are faced with unlimited opportunities.   It is a privilege to live in this age where so much is at our finger tips.  Unfortunately, we’ve allowed it to create, not just commotion, but c h a o s.  

Learn to say no.  Think through a criteria for what is best, not just good.  When you go to your favorite Italian restaurant and look at the menu, there isn’t a bad choice on there.  You want to say yes to the lasagna but then you see the Alfredo and the marsala and the shrimp scampi.  What will you do?   You will find so many good opportunities — dance for your preschool daughter, football for your teenage son, serving on a board, connecting with a local organization, social events, business engagements, a place to share your expertise, a way to volunteer in the neighborhood — that you need to practice saying no. Because the truth is when you say yes to something you are unknowingly saying no to something else.  Once you know what is best for you and your family in this season of your life, it will empower you to say no.  Everyone will be better off because this will begin to reduce the chaos.   

Unplug from your electronic devises for 24 to 36 hours every week. I just heard the collective gasp!  When was the last time you or your family spent a full day uninterrupted by email, texts, phone calls, tweets, posts, gaming, blogs, even breaking news?  What would you do with that time?  Would it bring some stillness into the commotion?  

Take 5 minutes to be still 3 times a day.  Uh, Oh!  You just thought the unplugging was going to be hard!! Going no where in your mind, aka stillness, is extremely difficult in our always-in-motion world.  Let’s compare this to my note taking.  When I take notes I start out with a piece of paper with wide margins.  In the beginning I keep all of my notes within the margins.  Then as more information comes at me, I begin to write in the margins.  Not much at first, just a few crucial points.  Eventually, I have scribbled all over the margins and drawn arrows from one point to another.  At the end of my note taking, I have a chaotic mess that cannot be deciphered.  This leaves my notes of little value.  Our lives are the same way.   Make quiet moments (arrive 5 minutes early to a meeting and sit in the car, use the time in the kid’s school pick up line, before your feet hit the floor in the morning or after they slip between the covers at night) to clear your mind of problem-solving, bargaining with God, and planning for what is coming next.  This stillness gives you more room to notice what the main points are and remember them regularly.  

There’s no better time than now!  We are entering the busiest season of the year.  If you start being intentional about introducing stillness into your world now, you’ll be even better at it when we turn the calendar over into the new year.  I’d love to hear from you. Which one of these are you willing to start practicing today — saying no, unplugging devises, stillness?