I just got back from a working vacation in parts of the northwestern USA that are so gorgeously bucolic and blessedly detached from the grind of urban life that one can’t help but be reminded of just how noisy things out there have gotten… and how quiet they can still be!
It is a noisy world we live in, isn’t it? Particularly when so many insist on being permanently tethered to news and media, with TV sets blaring all day, smart phones ever at the ready, the Internet in all its tabloid permutations bleating a litany of tragedies and travesties from one end of the globe to the other, those of us not living in war torn squalor, profound poverty, gangland violence, or insidious oppression, can almost feel guilty for our relatively unscathed lives. And even if we refrain from such misguided tendencies, we’re still spending too much of our time fending off anxiety, fear, worry, or seething commentary from the worst amongst us, discovering that just laying one’s head on the pillow is a trigger for loud, internal late night chatter.
I’ve seen more and more posts on social media from people bemoaning the vitriol and hissing ignorance of so many who have somehow become “experts” on issues of the Middle East or the Ukraine. I’ve read head-shaking online conversations in which someone’s expression of gratitude for a good life is attacked by trolls who’ve decided expressing gratitude shows lack of compassion for the suffering (because trolls know all about compassion, right?). I’ve talked to people who are SO convinced that horror and dread is around every corner based on endless ticker-tape reporting of horror and dread worldwide, they can barely acknowledge a beautiful moment without waiting for the axe to fall.
NOISE. Noise couched in news. Noise that is so relentless that we begin to feel that war, violence, hate and poverty are all there is to the world… and that’s simply not true. It is, simply, all we hear about. Which creates the delusion of “darkness descending everywhere.” It’s not and we cannot immerse ourselves in every tragedy, every war, every historical feud, every horrifying injustice, without taking a toll on our mental and emotional health. Doing so is as unbalanced as eating nothing but dirt and expecting to be healthy.
We are now and forever so connected to the collective noise of the world-at-large that QUIET and SERENITY are almost an unfathomable concepts. But think about it: we didn’t used to have all this chatter around us. We used to be able to watch an hour or two of news, then get on with the business of living our lives. Now “living our lives” is composed of never-ending bouts of watching, reading, commenting, fearing, yelling, trolling, posting, defending, attacking and deleting, to the point that serenity and detachment is a lost art. We can blame the culture, blame the Internet, blame new technology, but it’s all about us. We have the power to turn it off and go find that lost art.
Do. Get it back. It’s essential. And it’s there to be had; you deserve to — but WAIT, you yell! How selfish am I if I revel in my own good fortune, enjoy my own peace and serenity while people elsewhere are living in literal hell? I can’t put my head in the sand!! I have to be engaged, involved, immersed in the world around me, so I can be a good citizen or, hey, even just have enough information to be able to scream and yell on social media with other marginally informed people!!
Right. As my therapist used to say: “and is that working for you?” No.
Here’s the thing, and I’ve said this before… many times: Screaming and yelling at each other on Facebook, Twitter or Reddit is NOT activism. It’s screaming and yelling at each other. Spending countless hours watching and listening to profoundly biased anchors on cable news and talk radio is NOT getting informed; it’s being propagandized to. Stockpiling weapons, joining militia groups, being “anti-government” and stashing duct tape is NOT being pro-active; it’s being fear-based and paranoiac. Wringing hands and lying sleepless at night roiled in anxiety after endless articles on the very worst of people and the most catastrophic of life events is NOT being informed and involved; it’s being oversaturated and toxified. None, not one, of these things does one bit of good for the children in the Middle East, the Eastern Europeans in their battles with Russia, the starving children of Africa or elsewhere, or the beleaguered young women in repressive countries. None.
I don’t know why any of us land where we do on this planet, how we end up in the families we do; why some of us are born in war-torn regions and others have parents with endless wealth. Depending on what you believe it’s either all random, dumb luck, or some kind of spiritual path set in motion in another realm. But whatever it is, you living in Van Nuys, California with a good job, a healthy family, a decent marriage and the chance to get out of town from time to time are NOT obligated to feel guilty, or not enjoy your abundance, because someone in Gaza is being blasted to hell by rockets. None of us knows why any of us ends up on the paths we do, but denying and negating your own is not the answer.
The answer is twofold. First: if you are so compelled, and it would be good if you were, do what you can for those for whom you feel concern by allotting appropriate attention and energy to sending money, volunteering, writing meaningful articles, doing honest due diligence upon which to base opinions, educating others, raising your consciousness, and promoting and exemplifying tolerance, peace, and sanity.
Then, when you’re done with all that, there’s the second step: go live and enjoy your good life with gratitude, acceptance, kindness and compassion. If every single person who could do that did, the positive energy swirling around this planet would surely raise the bar of humanity a notch or two… of this I’m convinced.
So in following my own prescription, my family and I take every opportunity to go to wherever we can to find stillness and beauty. To revel in peace, nature, and serenity – “But I can’t afford it,” you holler. “Lucky you, but not everyone has that kind of time or opportunity,” you admonish.
That doesn’t hold water. Because no matter where you live or what your budget might be, every person can find some place of solitude, some corner of nature and beauty where they can lower the anxiety and feel the quiet that exists away from chattering humanity and its machines. I had a creekside oasis in my childhood hometown where I could ride my bike to climb into a tree and sing show tunes surrounded by long grass and dandelions (for some reason “Shall We Dance?” was a favorite! :). A friend of mine used to find her spot in a big city park where a grove of trees surrounded a bench where there was surprisingly little traffic, human or automotive, to disturb the sound of squirrels and swaying branches. Another friend makes it a pilgrimage to drive to the beach at every opportunity; another, to hike the Hollywood trails; yet another to prioritize funds to get out of town at least once or twice a year.
Whatever you have to do, whatever you can afford to do, find your quiet. It exists out there. I promise. It takes a willingness to detach from our addictive, mechanical informantst but, trust me… it’s worth it. There’s a beautiful, quiet, peaceful world out there just waiting to be heard.
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