A Hunger for Quietness
Updated: Oct 31, 2019
Have you ever noticed it’s the little things that carry the greatest weight? The small voices and moments that crawl into your heart and curl into a ball, warming you like a blanket and cup of hot tea?
We live in a world enamored with noise. Every wall, surface, and screen shouts at us from the moment we wake up to when we click our phones off at night, but make sure to keep the ringer on, you never know who might call.
It’s a world of big things and big voices, of tweets and news and texts and sirens, sooner or later it all starts to sound the same. In a future like this, it’s hard to find the time and space for mindfulness, for leaning into the present moment. Why do it? Why experience the pain and pleasure of this moment when we can numb ourselves with endless varieties of entertainment?
The movie “Nell”, released in 1994, tells the story of a reclusive woman born without electricity, completely isolated from the outside world. She is discovered by a team of scientists and finds herself standing in front of a judge, trying to explain her past. In this film, released now 25 years ago, she said the following to a watching crowd:
“You have big things. You know big things. But you don’t look into each other’s eyes. And you’re hungry for quietness.”
Hungry for quietness. A hunger we cause ourselves.
I remember a few years ago bingeing the show “Mad Men” with my wife. It was a lovely time, sitting next to her and watching the story unfold, but it struck me at one point that I was watching a man trying desperately to find human connection, all the while sitting next to my wife, whom I hadn’t really looked at or spoken to in a couple of days.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all about some Netflix and chill. The modern technology that connects us is a force for good, holding people accountable in a world gone mad with atrocity and pain. But I find myself sucked into it. Drowning in headlines and social media and job responsibilities and taxes and fear and judgement and shame, always ending up in a panic that I’m screwing up this “life” thing as badly as possible. That’s when I start comparing myself to others, when I start to feel burned out. Eventually the exhaustion forces me to stop, and I wonder how long it’s been since I looked into my family’s eyes. And I mean really looked. When was the last time I gave my soul the quietness it so desperately deserves?
Then there’s the constant push for perfection. Shame by another name. It’s been well documented that we only see the best versions of everyone else (especially online) and our culture rarely allows us to express our feelings of being uncomfortable. It’s enough to make us feel we’re not allowed to have those feelings at all.
So I start small.
Five minutes of quiet. Just five minutes. Putting my phone in the bathroom instead of on my nightstand. Going to work early and brewing coffee, smelling it before taking a sip. Taking my wife’s hand and kissing her, gently, on the cheek. Slowly. Looking at her. Not for an hour. Not for a lifetime. Just for five minutes.
I am worthy of love and belonging, and so are you. We’re worthy of five minutes. Five minutes today, five minutes tomorrow. Who knows? By the weekend maybe we’ll be up to ten.
Please, take five minutes for yourself today. Feel your love and know you’re worthy. And if you do, thank you, because I need to know it’s ok for me to take those five minutes too.
James believes strongly in the power of accepting ourselves with hope, speaking with vulnerability and courage, and taking small, powerful steps toward self-love.
He grew up all over the country, the son of two military parents, and eventually settled with his beautiful wife in Virginia. He speaks of himself as a very flawed, blessed man who’s experienced both illness and trauma, and he strongly believes in advocating for mental health (his own as well as others) and helping people find connection and love their worthy, imperfect selves.