On Peace and Quiet
It’s funny – whenever I hear the expression “Peace and Quiet”, I always think of my Mom marching into the living room when us kids were being obscenely loud and boisterous, with her voice raised “Would you kids go outside? I need some Peace and Quiet!”.
I think she was onto something.
When was the last time you had Peace and Quiet? If you’re like the average person, between noisy offices, loud traffic, bustling restaurants, stores and malls, and houses full of rambunctious children, and snoring spouses, your last moment of actual Peace and Quiet might be hard to remember.
But here’s the thing.
If your life is one continuous stream of noise, you never have a moment to just be. Your days will just meld together, one thing after another. You’ll always feel like you’re climbing uphill, but never reaching the top. Life will feel like a struggle, hopping from one thing to the next, and when you look back, you’ll see that you’re not really getting anywhere. Worst of all, your work, your relationships, and your body may start to suffer.
I’m speaking from experience here. There was a time in my life about 15 years ago when I worked 80-90 hours a week. Now, these days, I still work that much many weeks. But the big difference between then and now is, back then, I would work work work, then spend the rest of my time hanging out socially with the people I worked with. I would be out of the house from early in the morning, till late at night, every day, all the time. There were points where the only thing I did at my apartment was sleep and eat breakfast. I always had to be going somewhere, moving, having external stimulation of some sort.
Why? I was afraid to spend too much time in my own head. I felt like the ideas I got, the things I thought about in those times were foolish, and useless. Nothing practical ever came out of thinking too much. I can’t explain why, other than that for various reasons, my self esteem had taken some blows. I felt that if I focused entirely on the outside world, then I didn’t have to be accountable to what was happening on the inside.
This went on for some time. Then, suddenly, my health took a dive. I wound up spending nearly 9 months between 1994 and 1995 sick with a few different things. I even had to have surgery. I had to take time off work, then go back only part time for a while. I spent most of the year on some sort of medication. It turned out, my illnesses were the physical manifestation of complete emotional and physical burnout. Unfortunately for me, the only way I was able to realize the damage my “always-on” lifestyle was causing was to wind up flat on my back.
And it was the best thing that ever happened to me.
Hey, who’s that? Oh, it’s me. I was 24 years old, lying in bed, flat on my back, with my Mom feeding me chicken soup and crackers. I had the opportunity to spend an awful lot of time…doing nothing. At first it was really, really difficult. I was going stir crazy. I needed constant stimulation, TV, music, books. Eventually that got boring, so I was stuck with no other choice than to be inside my own brain. And then, something remarkable started to happen.
I found out it wasn’t so bad in there.
As I sat, in my forced Peace and Quiet, all of these thoughts started to flood in. Because I was off work, my thoughts were not being filtered by the stresses of my job, or the opinions of my friends. My thoughts were just….me. I found myself taking an interest in things again – not just blankly going through the motions. I found myself wanting to write more, wanting to play music, get in shape, and find some hobbies. I found out that I’d been a stranger to myself for the past several years. And suddenly, I’d been re-introduced to myself. And it wasn’t so bad.
I also rediscovered my family and other friends outside my job. I realized that I’d been pushing these people aside, not making them a priority. Spending time on my parents’ couch recovering, I was able to reconnect with them. This was in the days before social networks, but I was able to gab on the phone with some old friends, and have great visits from others. Once I was up and around again, I could go for walks, or have coffee or lunch with my “outside of work” friends. It was fun, and I realized how much I’d been missing.
The Power of Peace and Quiet. Once I recovered, I had a completely new outlook on things. I had made up my mind, first of all, that I was going to change careers. I’d had enough of the burnt out, always-on, stressful lifestyle and work culture that working at the TV station had forced upon me. I knew it was going to take some time and money, so I set on a course to save up so I could afford to quit my job and go back to school (it took 2.5 years before I made the break). I also decided to change my social situation. I ended some unhealthy relationships and reconnected with my real friends. I invested in some new things for my home, so I’d feel more comfortable in my own surroundings. Eventually, I moved into my own apartment (no roommates) so I’d have even more control of my surroundings.
But most importantly, I started seeking Peace and Quiet. I learned walked away from my stressful work days and into a place of tranquility, whether it was working on my hobbies, going for long walks, or just sitting quietly. It was challenging sometimes. I had to fight hard to not fall back into my old habits. Some of my friends didn’t understand my lack of interest in this party or that. But I knew I had to be okay with it. My own health and sanity depended on my focus on finding my Peace and Quiet.
How to find your Peace and Quiet. It’s a busy life. A crazy, busy life. We are all involved in a million things, and nowadays, we add our online life into the mix. Information and busyness is swirling around us. Finding our Peace and Quiet is a challenge. But you have to do it, in spite of your 80 hour job or your 3 small children or the demands of your social life. And you have to make sure you find some Peace and Quiet EVERY DAY.
There are lots of ways to do it. You can be like my Mom, and send the kids outside for a while. You can pray, or meditate. You can write. Walk the dog, or just walk yourself. You have to stop making excuses and start making the time, because if you don’t, you’ll wind up not being able to care for anyone or anything, like I did.
So, where are you going to find your Peace and Quiet today?