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September 27, 2015
Another High Holydays have come and gone with as much spiritual fruit harvested as I could put into them. It’s hard to stay in the quiet “zone” of introspection, prayer, and resolution (tshuvah, tefilah and tzedakah) when the rest of the world is doing cartwheels, screaming and spinning like tops all around. And yet that is what I needed. So, true to myself, I “stole” what time I could get. I gave myself the New Year’s gift of a few hours of quiet.
That’s a radical idea, isn’t it? Spending time in quiet, no TV, no computer, no music? For a time, mind you. I am nowhere near spending years, as the ancients purportedly did, meditating in silence until I could hear an ant scream. Still, the idea of having quiet time for more than a few minutes rankles. Why would somebody do that?
When I taught 8th grade Language Arts, one of my lesson plans included a survey. I asked my students what they did first thing when they arrived home after school. Without exception, my students told me that, if the appliances were not already turned on, they would turn on a radio, MP3 player, Xbox, TV or computer. I asked why. The response boiled down to this: they were uncomfortable with quiet. When I “tested” this by asking them to try a few seconds without writing or reading or doing anything, most fidgeted. One or two had to drop pencils or books. Too much longer, and I swear any number of them would have broken into sweaty panic.
That was several years ago. I fully expect that, given another 8th grade class today in 2015, the students would fare even worse. Outside stimulation seems to be ingrained in most of us now, as if we are afraid of our own thoughts and impressions and discoveries. We crave the noise to tamp down our own thoughts and hopes and fears in favor of whoever is talking,
singing or acting the loudest. We follow the trends and spout the buzz words without really thinking about what any of it means. And that’s called progress.
I’d call it “fear.” Fear of independent thought, fear of doing what is morally or ethically right, fear of being quiet within. Of course, fear can free a person from having to do things. Too afraid to speak up when a lie is spread as truth because the liar is the loudest? Simple. Do nothing. Wait for it to pass. Afraid that person of another color or faith might hurt you or, worse, that you will be called traitorous to the herd if you help them? No problem, man. Do nothing. Afraid that the herd (which includes family and loved ones) would tell you that you can’t or shouldn’t do something, even if you feel it in your bone marrow that you have to try? Easy, do nothing. And then try to live with yourself and the tatters of your non-media approved dreams. The shreds of yourself. Or cover it all up with the noise of our apps, our machines, the fuss and bother of what others will tell us is “just life.”
THAT is why I need quiet. I have realized in the quiet of the past several High Holydays and years that I want the quiet. I want my own thoughts. I want some period of time every day for the world to shut up and leave me alone so I can hear my own thoughts. I write in quiet, most of the time. I cook in quiet. And I read in quiet, giving myself the freedom to think through what I am doing, what the results are and what ideas really work and are not merely “in.” The quiet impels me to move, to work, to reflect. It allows me to break off expectations. Quiet pushes me to do and then feeds my soul with the needful impetus to accomplish. It is beyond price.