One Quiet Hour
One quiet hour a day might be the solution to everything that ails you. While silence has always been a powerful force of change, it has never been more essential to our existence.
Lucky for all of us, it is also pure pleasure. Like a vacation every single day.
I stumbled upon the idea of a quiet hour when I was running an art exhibit where women would come, sit and reflect on a piece of art in silence for one hour and then we would discuss what came to us. There were no expectations for that time and no preparation was required. The invitation said “Come as you are.”
The purpose of the art exhibit was to be a fun community experience, it was not intended to be therapy. And yet, it quickly revealed that in a society where we have absolutely everything we could ever want at our fingertips, we had no access to quiet and we are desperate for it. We were busy rushing to our counseling appointments, hurrying to get massages and pedicures, trying as hard as we could to do something that would help us find some relief from our chronic anxiety, but being quiet and still had never crossed our minds as a solution.
Never before in history has quiet been something we could choose.
In the past, quiet was inherent in being alive. There are natural pauses happening all around us. For example, this morning I was waiting in line to buy my coffee and then it was wrong so I was waiting in line all over again. It took eternity. Before this year, I would have been filling that “useless” pause in my morning with scrolling, texting or taking and I might not have even noticed how very long I had to wait. Gosh, it was long.
We don’t have pauses anymore, we don’t have space, we don’t have one second where we are not filling in the gaps of quiet, like cement holding bricks into place. The noise is relentless. If you can imagine those bricks like cells, we have become a body, mind and spirit that can’t breath, can’t grow, can’t slow down or speed up as needed. We become locked into a way of functioning that doesn’t honor our human needs.
Quiet is the solution to softening the cement. When we come back into ourselves, we remember we are not robots those bricks become living and moving cells again, able to do their work of taking in the good and letting go of what we do not need.
Most of us use technology to fill in the gaps of quiet in our life. In the world of devices, there are no boundaries. We have no limits to connection, work and entertainment. It can be a powerful tool. Until we no longer have access to ourselves. Some of the most fascinating research I have come across is the work of Cal Newport. In his book, Deep Work, he has found that five hours of working with even the possibility of interacting with your phone/email/internet is equal to what you can accomplish in one focused hour where your phone is no where near you.
One focused hour = Five distracted hours.
One focused hour of work equals five distracted hours of work. One focused hour of relaxation equals five distracted hours of relaxation. If all of our hours are filled with devices, it makes sense that none of us feel like we have time for anything anymore.
My kids have active social lives, are involved in may extracurricular activities and their academic schedule is demanding. Every waking hour they were home from school was filled to the brim with homework, often up to five hours a night. My husband and I have value that our kids apply themselves and grades have not really been important to us. That being said, the work was wearing us all down. It was common for them to say they didn’t have time for dinner and even though their grades were fine, they were not matching their effort. When I learned about Newport’s research, it all started making sense.
First of all, because they both have their own phones, I realized that every minute that was not being controlled by someone else, they were checking their phones. It is happening all around us all of the time. We don’t walk to our car after a meeting and allow ourselves to take a deep breath or review what we just learned. Immediately, sometimes while even still wrapping up a conversation, we pull out our phones and check our email. We are getting in one more text before we order our coffee or catching up on Twitter as we move to our next destination.
Our brains have to stay on the surface to stay connected to our phones. For my kids, this meant that what they were learning during the school day was not ever sinking into the deeper reservoirs of their brains, the place where they would need to retrieve it for homework and tests. All of that learning they were doing at home while there phone was right there dinging with group texts and status updates was never actually being absorbed into their brilliant minds.
This is discouraging for a diligent student because in reality they are working very hard. Their brains are exhausted from these inefficient sprints while the work they are accomplishing is minimal. It feels like a reward or at the least, a relief, to see someone like your picture, to watch a funny video, or be included in a group text in comparison to the unrelenting work they had to do with such little pay off.
Here’s the rub: my kids need their phones to be functioning, collaborative, and connected teenagers and their phones keep them from being functioning, collaborative and connected teenagers.
Both of them need access to the internet, their friends, their teachers and social media to do their homework. We live in a technological age. There is no going back to life without electricity, air conditioning or the cell phone.
But, what all of us need in order for any of the benefits of technology to be beneficial is access to our own brains. All of the information, education and connection is meaningless if we don’t know have the time and space, the quiet, to make sense of it all.
We live in a constant state of over-stimulation. When we don’t take advantage of the natural pauses of our day, we overload our brains, bodies and souls. When we try to sleep or study or just be with another person, we are distracted, anxious and exhausted.
We need quiet.
We need it like we need water. Like we need sunshine. Like we need to laugh. We think in quiet. Our very own thoughts. We learn how to think when we are bored. We can actually watch our brains light up as it connects ideas and deepens knowledge when we are doing nothing.
In the spring, our family started putting Newport’s research into practice and now, as regularly as we can, we have one hour, without out devices, without anyone else around us, physically or virtually, every day.
Sometimes I spend my quiet hour writing to explore or organize my own thoughts. Sometimes I spend it walking outside. Sometimes, I just sit, drink my coffee and stare out the window. In the past, it was important to me to use every single moment “productively.” I could not have imagined a day when I would be doing anything hands-free without also listening to an audio book or talking to a friend.
My son spends his quiet hour playing drums or just laying on his bed, if his body needs it, he takes a nap.
My daughter usually writes, sometimes she lights her candles and cleans her room.
Neither of them have to wait for the weekend to relax anymore. A quiet hour is their gift everyday. It is time for them just to be who they are. Their ability to focus has increased (both of them now spend no more than two focused hours on their homework each night). They are sleeping through the night without any tricks or medication. Their grades have improved. Their emotional worlds are less dictated by their phones. They have both started creative projects just for fun. They sing all of the time. They talk to us about what they are learning at school.
It is just one hour a day but this one quiet hour gave us back our kids and it giving us all back to ourselves.