Live a Quiet Life

I’ve often thought about this passage from 1st Thessalonians. In a world fueled by novelty, it’s difficult to find a place that is legitimately quiet. The topic has been written about ad nauseam. Most of these articles talk about the practical physical health benefits with specific regards to sound. There’s more to noise though than just sound, right? No doubt the noise aspect is an interesting topic. In our culture, the typical day roars to a start with an electronic alarm clock that immediately has a long list of notifications from the night before. During your groggy “snooze-button” state, a clever email marketer wrote a catchy subject line that is now embedded in your brain before you can even decide that it’s not worth your time. This is the time when we make our worst decisions. If you look at your phone or computer during this time (or really any time during the day) and even read a few mere words, you’re in. As the day progresses, we’re bombarded with information via email, music, advertisements from every angle, TV, conversations with co-workers, more email… You get the point.

I’ve decided to make an active attempt to quiet the noise in my life. I long for that quietness that I remember when I went camping with my family as a kid. I’ll define what noise means in the context of this writing, so we can be on the same wavelength. Noise is anything extraneous and undesirable for the life I want to live. Some might call it clutter. Some might call the mindset of reducing this noise feng shui. It doesn’t matter what you call it. The principle is the same: reduce the nonessential. Think about trying to hone in on the amazing jazz player in Central Park while the hustle and bustle of New York City is all around. This is what we’re going for. How about some examples and practicality?

Advertisements

As a business owner, I understand that one needs to talk about and advertise the business. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. Doing what you can to promote your products to the right people makes perfect sense. On the buyer end, though, is it really necessary to have fifty new emails each morning telling you about all the new stuff that’s out there? Is it just to satisfy your curiosity or are you legitimately interested in purchasing something from this company in the next month? If you are, great! By all means keep that email subscription, but if it’s just to satisfy your curiosity, just because you’re afraid you’ll miss out, unsubscribe or choose not to expose yourself immediately. This is noise. This applies to any and every email. Be ruthless. Check out SaneBox if you want some help with this.

Software

While advertisements through email, TV, smart phones, tablets, and the like are near inevitable, here is one practical step you can take to reclaim some sanity and stimulate the economy. If you are a computer user (this includes smart phones and tablets), pay for the non-advertisement version of the developer’s app. Apps are cheap (although they should be more expensive). You see fewer ads, and everyone wins. Value the developer’s work. Try out the free version if there is one. If you like it, buy it. Put some food on his/her family’s table and give your eyes a break from all the ads. Don’t go crazy, but support good software for people that are also trying to make an honest living by working with their hands.

Clutter

Let’s move to the more physical world. Do you have a closet or garage filled with moving boxes that have been unopened over the past few moves? Stuff that’s sitting around that could be sold for a few dollars or even more? It’s too much. Sell it. This is also noise. You don’t have to get rid of everything that you deem sentimental. Just be honest about whether you really need it in your life. Peter Walsh (no relationship), author of “It’s All Too Much” (linked above), can shed some light on this topic. Every time you pass that closet or box, there is a subconscious activity taking place. Your brain knows it should do something about this stuff, but another part of your brain is saying there is nothing to do about it. Conundrum. It’s a waste of mental energy. It’s what David Allen calls an “open loop”. Make the decision to do something about it. It’s noise in your life. You’ll breath easier at the end of the day when you come home and there’s tangible stillness in the air.

What to expect

These are the main areas of my life that I’ve committed to doing something about. These are the ones that I wrestle with. It’s a process and probably shouldn’t be handled in a weekend. I’ve been working toward a quieter life over the past several months. I’ve deleted apps (noisy ones that are clamor for my attention). I’ve unsubscribed from hundreds of emails. I’ve reduced the number of devices and amount of stuff in my life. I’d like to be able to live out of a backpack. As I get closer to the goal, though, I find that I have some very bad habits. I still check email habitually on my phone. Even though SaneBox is quietly working behind the scenes, I “just check” all the time. It’s a terrible habit that pulls me away from the current moment and the stillness that is everywhere if I would just open my eyes and absorb it. Living a quiet life is not so much about the cacophony of sounds in our lives, but mostly about the “noise” that consumes our culture. It’s about a return to what’s truly meaningful in life. Expect this to be a challenge. It’s doable, but it’s an easy decision to just start. Start with just being aware of it. Move on to making some small changes. Try it out for a week, and notice what happens. You can always go back. You probably won’t want to, though.

A Prophet is not Welcome

It’s a vexatious thought to consider: you have a message, a very important message. Should you share it? You consider the ways that the message could be delivered in a tactful, unassuming way. You try to be considerate of the recipient’s feelings. You consider the implications of the delivery of your message. You open your mouth for the first time with a trusted friend. She listens, but you get the idea that she’s only listening because she cares about you, not because she’s actually interested in what you have to say. You see her again later that month, and the same topic comes up. She’s slightly more agitated this time and politely changes the topic. The friendship continues, but it’s clear that something is driving a wedge between you two. Is this message worth the relationship? Yes. It’s that important. I care about her, and she needs to know. As the relationship continues to center around this topic, the tension grows. The conversations become shorter. The dialogue about anything else that used to be foundational to the relationship dwindles. She stops returning your calls and texts. She’s gone. You’ve lost a friend. Why? Your message is perfectly clear. It makes logical and common sense. Why won’t anyone believe you? Why are you the only person this is obvious to? Do people think you’re crazy? It doesn’t matter which way you spin it. The result is the same: you’re unwelcome, off your rocker, or even worse a lunatic. This is especially true if you’re right.

Such is the life of the prophet. I’m not speaking in Biblical terms alone. It doesn’t matter if you’re Edward Snowden or Jesus. At some point, friends and family write you off as the black sheep. We’ve all been there. A friend comes to us with an urgent “message”. We hear the words, “The sky is falling! Take cover!” Yes, yes. I know it is. Thank you for sharing. Please, let me resume drinking my beer and watching Big Bang Theory. We wouldn’t be wrong for responding this way. He’s wrong, and I’ll just be polite until he quits telling me about it. Another round! If he’s right, then I have some hard work to do. What if he’s right, though? Have I even considered that possibility?

The global and historical response to the “prophet” is essentially the same: “You are not welcome. Your words are uncomfortable to my ears. I don’t like the fact that I’ll have to do some soul searching or potentially change my life in order to heed the warning. This is hard work, and I don’t like the idea of being inconvenienced by what may or may not be true in your message. Right or wrong, I don’t care. I just want to get on with my life.” We’ve all been there. We’ve all been the prophet. We’ve all been deaf to the prophet. We’ve all been the crazy prophet with a crazy message, and we’ve all rightly become annoyed at the craziness of his message. It’s not a constant state of being in one role or the other. At times we have urgent messages we’d like to deliver to friends and family. It might be the latest MLM scheme or something of much greater importance. If we’re bold enough, we vocalize. Other times we don’t. For fear of being ostracized, ridiculed, or beaten, we shut down. We are the prophet, and society passively beats us into submission until our voice is silenced. In other circumstances we are on the other side as the recipient. We hear the crazy talk, and in the worst case scenario lose a friendship because this issue is the issue that is of utmost importance now. To not take the issue seriously is to not take the prophet seriously.

In my own life, at some point, I’ll be entrusted with a very important message. Most of the time, I’m pretty vocal. My fear is that I’ll be unable to communicate a very important message clearly or that ostracization will drive me to keep my mouth shut. On the flip side I’m afraid that someone in my life will come to me with an important message, and I’ll be too concerned with the meaningless activities in my day that I won’t hear that, this time, the sky is indeed falling.

Priority

I’m up considerably earlier than I normally would be on a day like today. I’m working at home today. I’ve been slightly depressed since Monday morning in my return to the office. I miss spending time with my son. I think men can really relate to this, but it doesn’t have to be active time spent with him. Merely being in the room and hearing his squeaks and cries for help warms my heart. I really want to be around for his growing up. I want my business and career to grow and be structure in a way that I can be available to wash dishes and clothes and change diapers. I have an unbelievable company that allows me to do most of these things. These are the years that I never get back. I could say the same about the precious years before Roman came along with Karla and I. In retrospect, I’d say that I didn’t use those as well as I could have. I should have cherished them more. I look back and wonder where the first three years of our marriage went. I look back and wonder why I didn’t spend more time with just us. I don’t want to have regrets, though. I want to look back and say, “That was foolish. There is no condemnation, however, and I want to change this in the future.”