It’s much quieter in our big cities right now. You can hear birds sing in Times Square.
And though, in some ways, the world seems so noisy today, for many of us, our daily routine probably feels quieter. For one thing—no hectic commute!
It’s made me think again about the value of quiet to our lives. On the wall of my office is a copy of Desiderata by Max Ehrman. It begins with these words:
“Go placidly amid the noise and haste and remember what peace there may be in silence.”
What is it like to go placidly, go gently, go peacefully through our days? How do we stay in touch with the peace that may be in silence? And how can that silence enhance our experience of daily life?
These days, I try to intentionally have a few moments of quiet each day—moments when I turn off all the noise—not only the noise of TV and work but (and this is the hard part) the noise in my head.
There are many ways to go with a moment of quiet: being in nature, watching the sunrise, meditating, praying. Just being still.
I sometimes use it to experience anew what an incredible thing it is just to have a life and be a human being—even with all of the failures and successes, all the joys and disappointments. I quietly accept them all. I think about what an amazing thing it is to be unique—to be the only “me” there has ever been or ever will be. I think about all the people in my life, each with his or her unique story.
In her book entitled Quiet, Susan Cain writes about the accomplishments of some of history’s quiet people:
“Some of our greatest ideas, arts and inventions … came from quiet … people who knew how to tune in to their inner worlds and the treasures to be found there. Neither the theory of relativity nor Paradise Lost was dashed off by a party animal.”
Well, chances are, most of us are not going to come up with something like Paradise Lost. But we do all have treasures inside.
I have come to believe that cultivating a rich center of quiet—a quiet that is a warm, friendly place where we feel at home—is vital for creating that precious work of art called a life. It can stay in us and keep us grounded as we face the noise and haste.
We may even discover, in the quiet, a kind of paradise found.
This guest post is from Landon Saunders
Once there was a man who found a treasure map. He rose before dawn and went to the place where the treasure was buried, measured off his steps according to the map, and, by torchlight, he dug right where the “X” on the map marked the spot. After what seemed like hours of work, his shovel hit something hard. He had found a treasure chest.
He pulled the chest, covered with mud, out of the hole and, in the early morning darkness, he held the torch close to examine it. Through all the mud and debris, he could barely make out the letter “T” and the letter “O”. “To whom?” he wondered. He scraped off the mud and he found that it wasn’t “to” anyone—the treasure chest was etched with the word “TODAY.” Very curious, he thought, as he went to work on the lock. He struggled and sweated, trying to open the lock. Then, just as the first rays of light were beginning to reach him, he got the chest open.
At the bottom of the chest was a leather-bound book, obviously of great age. Opening it with feverish intensity, he read the first page:
“You’ve discovered the greatest treasure any human being can possess. You have discovered today. A day is the only package the gift of life comes wrapped in. Take today and learn everything you can about what it takes to cherish a day—to cherish today, for you will never find another one like it. Realize that today is the right place for you—not yesterday and not tomorrow—but today. And, as you realize this, you will be in the valley of love and delight.”
Right now, it can be challenging to remember that today is still a day to be cherished. Our daily lives may seem to have shrunk down to the essentials we then repeat over and over again. With so much anxiety over the future, we may find ourselves “living” in the “what-if’s” of next week or next month, never really spending much time in today.
This is understandable. Today’s box may not look like much to open. Yours may be covered in a lot of mud and gunk. But, this week, try to take the time to wipe it clean and open it. You’ll find there is still so much to cherish.
How’s it going with your relationship to time?
Sometimes, we can find ourselves sort of living in the past. (“If only this or that had happened—or not happened—things would be better.”)
Or, we can find ourselves running so fast that we hardly notice the present; it’s like we’re living in the future. (“One of these days, when X happens …)
Living in past tense or future tense can leave us tense. So when I find myself slipping into either one, I like to recall this wonderful reminder from film maker Mel Brooks:
“Let’s have a merry journey and shout about how light is good and dark is not. What we should do is not future ourselves so much. We should now ourselves more. “Now thyself” is more important than “Know thyself.” Reason is what tells us to ignore the present and live in the future. So all we do is make plans. We think that somewhere there are going to be greener pastures It’s crazy … Listen, now is good. Now is wonderful.”
Don’t you love that?
We are meant to live in the now—it’s really the only place where life happens! And the pandemic hasn’t changed that.
Instead of saying “Wake me when it’s over!”, we can use this time to wake up more fully to the power of being present in the now.
One way I try to take hold of this: I go through my day sort of telling myself that whatever I’m doing, that’s what the universe wants me to be doing.
If I’m washing dishes, I’m washing dishes. I don’t want to be anywhere else doing anything else. Same goes for writing or having dinner or having a phone conversation or talking to my grandchildren or playing golf—even when I hit a bad shot. Especially when I hit a bad shot. (I’ve had to work on that one!)
It’s one way to sort of relax and inhabit the present. As someone has said (I think it was that wise old sage, A. Nonymous):
“Plan as if you would live forever, but live as if you would die tomorrow.”
So this week, the word is “Now thyself!” No matter what tomorrow holds, let’s have a merry journey now.
Someone has said that Columbus didn’t know where he was going, didn’t know where he was when he got there, and didn’t know where he’d been when he got back.
Well, about the time Columbus thought he’d found India, far away in the real India there lived a poor weaver who made rugs by day and scratched out poems by night.
His name was Kabir and today he’s one of India’s best-loved poets. Here’s a sample:
I laugh when I hear that the fish in the water is thirsty.
You don’t grasp the fact that what is most alive of all is inside your own house;
and so you walk from one holy city to the next with a confused look!
Kabir will tell you the truth: go wherever you like, to Calcutta or Tibet;
if you can’t find where your soul is hidden,
for you the world will never be real.
I think maybe Kabir is onto something.
Just think of the civilization we’ve built in the last century—the wealth, the comfort, the inventions, the possibilities. It would blow the minds of any other century.
You would think we would all be ecstatically happy! You would think that loneliness, depression, addictions, lack of fulfillment and other social ills would be at a minimum.
It is a little like being fish in the water and still being thirsty, isn’t it?
I like Kabir’s prescription. He says we may need to grasp a little more deeply the truth that “what is most alive is inside your own house.”
That line stopped me. First, I thought, “That’s good, because that’s where we are!”
Yes, it’s easy to feel that life, aliveness, joy, meaning, the pursuit of happiness is all “out there”. And, of course, we’d all love to be “out there.” And someday we will.
But meanwhile, Kabir is reminding us to look again at what we have “in here”—in our homes, in relationships, in ourselves, in the cultivation of our souls.
In a way, Kabir is calling us to be the Columbus of our own lives, to quietly go in search of new worlds inside ourselves—new inner resources, new, more satisfying and more “alive” ways of thinking and living and working and relating.
Today more than ever, I believe many are making that journey of discovery and that we’ll come back with our boats loaded with the riches money can’t buy.
I see signs of that in the outpouring of compassion, in a deeper concern for each other, in a quieter, more thoughtful approach to things, in a greater sense of personal presence, and more.
The world is becoming more real.
Who knows, maybe it’s a time for the rediscovery of America—an America where more of us really do know where we’re going.
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