The whole first half of my life might be characterized by building.
I spent a long time building lots of different things: a career, a family, an identitiy. This identity was built up largely by building up my place within easily defined groups: liberal, teacher, parent.
My beliefs were built up, too. I might begin with a certain idea… Perhaps the idea that there is A God. When I look around, I realize that this idea needs some support. If there is a God, then evil must exist because of… (Fill in the explanation here. I am sure you’ve heard all the arguments, regardless of whether any of them work for you.) Eventually, in order to make this explanation for the presence of evil work, I will add something else on.
Building is hard-wired into us, I guess. There is this symbolic building that is the task of the first half of our lives. And then, there is the literal building: I am remembering playing with blocks as a toddler. I would build these structures up.
With both kinds of building, there seems to be a pattern. In the beginning, it is easy to make a tower stronger and bigger at the same time. But there comes this point when our structures are as solid as they are going to get. The more we add, the weaker they become.
Freud said we have this death urge: sometimes we go charging straight at our own certain demise. I wonder if this is connected to the idea that we just keep building our towers after we know we should stop. Little kids are not so different than the architects of the tower of babel, I suspect. Somewhere, deep inside I knew that these towers of belief I was constructing were getting pretty unstable. But still we say “Bigger! More!”
The idea that it would come crashing down was as terrifying as it was inevitable. I lived in such stark denial. So many towers came down, smashing into each other like so many giant dominoes. I am stilling walking in the wreckage. But I kind of like it down here.
It is quiet, here. It is calm. It is peaceful. On a good day.
I am realizing how very noisy my life was. It was noisy because some of that building required efficiency, and multi-tasking, and trying to do lots of things at once. It was noisy because there was some part of me that new what was coming. Busyness and noise blocked it all out.
Have you ever fallen in love with the silence? That is where I am now.
It begins with eliminating unnecesary and artificial sounds. Turning off the music, podcasts, and movies, sometimes. Cutting off the chatter sometimes.
It is about the schedule. Simplifying. Realizing that there is a universe of difference between loving people and feeling like I have to please them.
It is about having the courage to sit. Standing up to the fears that I have been trying to run away from. Staring down the idea that I am required to justify myself through productivity. Conquering the fear that I am missing out.
I think that you ought to do that, right now: Just go somewhere and sit. Grab yourself a drink of something cool, while you do it. Close your eyes if you want to.
My life is better than it used to be. And this is the biggest reason why. Because I have learned a thing that my ancestors knew so well: it is important to stop, sometimes. It is important to sit.
There are things that make this easier, in some ways. Things like watching the breath. Things like calmly naming fears, distractions, and thoughts. There lots of good things to be said about these bells and whistles.
But I would like to challenge you to put these aside, for now. If you know a little something about meditation, or a lot about meditation, would you put it aside? Just go somewhere and sit. Sit for longer than you’d want to. Sit for longer than makes sense.
It may be miserable at first. It might not even seem worth it the first several times you do it. But in the same way that you might do it for longer than you’d want to, I want to challenge you to do it more often than you’d want to. There will come a point that it becomes it’s own reward, it becomes a self sustaining thing… Unless, of course it doesn’t. And then, what do you have to lose? The time? I am starting to think all the things you would have done in that time aren’t as important as you were telling yourself anyway.