“The joy of quiet”

“The joy of quiet” December 29, 2011

Who doesn’t crave that, especially this time of year? It turns out, we not only crave it, we need it.

From author Pico Iyer, in this Sunday’s New York Times:

LAST year, I flew to Singapore to join the writer Malcolm Gladwell, the fashion designer Marc Ecko and the graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister in addressing a group of advertising people on “Marketing to the Child of Tomorrow.” Soon after I arrived, the chief executive of the agency that had invited us took me aside. What he was most interested in, he began — I braced myself for mention of some next-generation stealth campaign — was stillness.

A few months later, I read an interview with the perennially cutting-edge designer Philippe Starck. What allowed him to remain so consistently ahead of the curve? “I never read any magazines or watch TV,” he said, perhaps a little hyperbolically. “Nor do I go to cocktail parties, dinners or anything like that.” He lived outside conventional ideas, he implied, because “I live alone mostly, in the middle of nowhere.”

Around the same time, I noticed that those who part with $2,285 a night to stay in a cliff-top room at the Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur pay partly for the privilege of not having a TV in their rooms; the future of travel, I’m reliably told, lies in “black-hole resorts,” which charge high prices precisely because you can’t get online in their rooms….

…The average American spends at least eight and a half hours a day in front of a screen, Nicholas Carr notes in his eye-opening book “The Shallows,” in part because the number of hours American adults spent online doubled between 2005 and 2009 (and the number of hours spent in front of a TV screen, often simultaneously, is also steadily increasing).

The average American teenager sends or receives 75 text messages a day, though one girl in Sacramento managed to handle an average of 10,000 every 24 hours for a month. Since luxury, as any economist will tell you, is a function of scarcity, the children of tomorrow, I heard myself tell the marketers in Singapore, will crave nothing more than freedom, if only for a short while, from all the blinking machines, streaming videos and scrolling headlines that leave them feeling empty and too full all at once.

The urgency of slowing down — to find the time and space to think — is nothing new, of course, and wiser souls have always reminded us that the more attention we pay to the moment, the less time and energy we have to place it in some larger context. “Distraction is the only thing that consoles us for our miseries,” the French philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote in the 17th century, “and yet it is itself the greatest of our miseries.” He also famously remarked that all of man’s problems come from his inability to sit quietly in a room alone.

When telegraphs and trains brought in the idea that convenience was more important than content — and speedier means could make up for unimproved ends — Henry David Thoreau reminded us that “the man whose horse trots a mile in a minute does not carry the most important messages.” Even half a century ago, Marshall McLuhan, who came closer than most to seeing what was coming, warned, “When things come at you very fast, naturally you lose touch with yourself.” Thomas Merton struck a chord with millions, by not just noting, “Man was made for the highest activity, which is, in fact, his rest,” but acting on it, and stepping out of the rat race and into a Cistercian cloister.

Read more.  It’s worth it.

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12 responses to ““The joy of quiet””

  1. Coincidentally I just got home from my Perpetual Adoration hour; have had the same hour for 13 years. It’s free, and it’s an hour without electronic gizmos; just a candle and a silent Companion. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to step out of the rat race for awhile.

  2. Information from many national parks indicate that, while the crowds might be large along the main roads, you can easily find yourself alone with nature if you hike a mile or two.

  3. Just returned from three days and two nights at the Provincial House of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondolet in Latham,NY. A reprieve from Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, the phone, TV, radio and the daily news. As always, moments of great spiritual insight to help me on my spiritual journey. And a soft ice cream machine.

  4. This is really such an ancient idea, a venerable part of our Judeo-Christian Tradition: It’s called SHABBAT, as in “Keep holy the sabbath.”

    It’s long past time to recover that part of the Tradition!
    Merry Christmas,
    Deacon Bill

  5. When I make a retreat at St. Meinrad Archabbey, the quiet and silence are what I cherish the most. No TV, no internet, I turn off my phone and it’s wonderful.

    How I would love to go shopping somewhere with no music caterwauling over the intercom. It would be tolerable if it was classical or good jazz, but I get the latest diva showing off her range and mangling the melody.

  6. Heading with sons to retreat at Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky, former home of some famous writer and monk who loved the silence enough to make it his life. Really need this time each year.

  7. That famous writer and monk was Thomas Merton. You might enjoy reading some of his work. He loved the silence but he was a prolific writer and commited pacifist. Have a wonderful peaceful retreat.

  8. Barbara, I knew who the writer was and have read most of his work. Liked the early stuff but he got lost a little bit there in the end. I was leaving identity to the reader of the comment to put together as almost all Catholics know his story. In fact, some of the retreats we have been on there have been around his work.
    And they make some great 100 proof Butter Walnut Bourbon Fudge that is awsome and loaded boozed up fruitcake that will knock your socks off. Nothing like getting close to God with a good dose of Bourbon fudge and fruitcake.

  9. I have it on good authority that they use Jim Beam. In both the fudge and the fruitcake. For years, I gave that fudge for Christmas gifts to my colleagues at CBS. It was a huge hit.

  10. Just because someone continues to seek doesnt mean he is lost. I dont think Thomas Merton was lost at the end.

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