Carole Carson: Enjoy the silent, empty spaces
Growing up in the Midwest, I was surrounded by Methodists. A relative was a well known Methodist missionary, I went to a Methodist Sunday school that my father taught, and I attended Cornell College, a Methodist-affiliated liberal arts college in Mount Vernon, Iowa.
Embedded in my psyche during these formative years was this directive from John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement:
Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.
In other words, don’t sit around contemplating your navel.
This ingrained belief makes it hard for me to waste time. Surely, I say to myself, there’s something useful I could be doing while waiting in the grocery line. Maybe I should use my cell phone to add a new word to my vocabulary, like “sapiosexual,” which I learned is someone who is attracted to really smart people.
Or maybe I should read one of Dan Lewis’ “Now I Know” vignettes at nowiknow.com. The last time I was waiting to see my doctor, I learned that if I want to keep milk from spoiling, I should throw a frog in the jar with the milk. This Russian practice, used before refrigeration was available, worked because frogs’ skins have antibacterial and antifungal properties. Now I know.
Silence seems to be something to fear, especially when there are gaps in conversation. In those moments, silence seems almost heavy, even awkward.
But what I’ve noticed as I age is that I need quiet time. I need the luxury of extended periods alone with my own thoughts. In an act of rebellion against noise, I often create a protected space without background music, television, or radio.
The only sound, if there is one, is the tapping on my keyboard, and that’s only if I come up with an idea for something I want to write about.
Every now and then, seemingly out of unavoidable necessity, I cram my calendar full of activities and have nonstop stimulation and information bombarding me. When that happens, I forget who I am. I lose touch with myself and my feelings. My brain feels like a radio station receiving static.
Conversely, the more I’ve learned to tolerate silent, empty spaces, the more I enjoy them. Unhampered by an agenda and unrestrained by an urgent problem to solve, my thoughts and ideas can run freely wherever they choose to roam.
I find the quiet time incredibly empowering. And seemingly without effort, creative ideas emerge on their own and I find myself doing my best thinking.
Mahatma Gandhi described this phenomenon eloquently when he wrote, “In the attitude of silence the soul finds the path in a clearer light, and what is elusive and deceptive resolves itself into crystal clearness.”
Unlike one of my good friends, I’m not ready yet to sign up for a silent retreat. But who knows what the future holds?
Carole Carson, Nevada City, is an author, former AARP website contributor, and leader of the 1994 Nevada County Meltdown. Contact: email@example.com
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