The City That Raised Me - Getting Out of the City: The Rural Pace of the Undistracted
I think everyone understands the importance of taking a break. Getting out of the city. Breathing in some new scenery. But have you ever gone on vacation and returned just as stressed as the day you left? Is psychological respite more than simply unplugging from our physical location?
If we pull back, it’s not hard to see how disorientating we’ve made our daily lives. I’ve realized how many inputs I have on even an hourly basis. I read e-mails, see Instagram posts, listen to the radio, read books, engage in conversations etc. In the middle of this perpetual consumption we are required to navigate life: form opinions, move forward, care for our mental and physical health, build communities, raise children, love spouses, find God, and nurture happiness. We’re treading water at the best of times. While treading, continuous information barrages us in the form of relentless waves and torrential downpour. It’s exhausting.
No wonder we burn out.
It’s a bold statement, but with so many inputs, have we lost the ability to process, to weigh thoughts--to think? When was the last time you carried a thought from inception to completion? Or really considered a question like: “Am I happy?” Yes, or no? Why or why not? What am I doing about it? When was the last time we were very intentional about evaluating our life?
Since January I’ve been journaling in a book that provides a daily thought-prompt. It’s made me realize how hard it is to stay focused on ONE topic. In the morning I’ll journal a bit on the question, get ready for work, get into my car and boom—if the radio is on, all of a sudden I’m thinking about what the announcer is talking about, or commiserating with a song. My thought process has been hijacked. I see this happen as I scroll through Instagram, where new ideas of travel, or comparing my life to others re-directs my thoughts once again. Hijacked. The original thought of the day is left on the river bank while I sail downstream with the ideas the world wants me to consider.
It’s a self-imposed manipulation of the most subtle and devious kind.
What could I do if my thoughts were given the space to breathe? What peace of mind would be attainable?
Is this what Socrates meant when he quipped that “the unexamined life is not one worth living?”
As psychological issues flood our culture, I wonder how many are being prescribed time in the classroom of silence. Pascal said, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
I’m starting to think that “getting away” is less about a destination, and more a conscious removal of unessential inputs, and a scheduling of time to provide thoughts with much needed intentionality.
I’m scared to admit that maybe we avoid silence--unconsciously terrified of what we’ll find. In solitude we are faced with the true, naked, real version of ourselves. We are forced to examine our motives, our failures, our opinions--the correct ones and the selfish, distorted ones. Like our ancestors from Eden, we “realize we’re naked and hide.” We hide by avoiding the topic of our nakedness. We hide with more inputs. More social media, more Netflix, more news, more information….. These become soothing, numbing drugs, keeping real truth and painful issues at bay. The rub is that perpetual distraction can sabotage intellectual, emotional, spiritual and relational depth.
Ignatius of Loyola invented what he called “the daily examen” where he literally scheduled time before bed every evening to review his day. What excited him that day? Did he pursue it? What went well? Where was he wrong? How was he doing when he held himself up to the standards he consciously laid out for himself? Was he becoming the man he wanted to be?
In an age where so much information is supplied, thinking and consciously directing our lives takes the utmost discipline. As I get older, however, the more I side with the idea that happiness is impossible without discipline.
“Constant work gives rise to a certain kind of dullness and feebleness in the rational soul.”