To pursue The Quieter Life requires overcoming our fear of missing out, our fear that, if we let our foot off the gas and slow down, we will miss the next opportunity, the next big thing…
Overload, the feeling that too much is coming at you, may be the quintessential emotional experience of modern life. We all feel it from time to time; most of us feel it pretty much all the time. We respond with increased levels of stress, which come forth as all sorts of problems: depression, anxiety, out-of-control anger, and a general sense of dissatisfaction.
Such a situation requires analysis. But analysis is useful in so far as it helps us to see as abnormal what we have taken all our lives to be the normal course of things. That we take the extreme pressures of modern life as normal is, after all, the most abnormal thing about our age.
At the same time, analysis must be accompanied by action. Since I tend to veer toward the cerebral side, I want to balance my penchant for analysis by making concrete suggestions for action. In pursuit of that goal, I offer here five things we all can do immediately to quiet our lives.
Get Used to the Quiet
The quiet scares most modern people. We have become so used to noise surrounding us constantly that when there is little of it, we panic. Think about it. Every shop you enter plays music. When you hop out to pump your gas, in addition to the noise of the street, you often have that little TV screen in the pump that spits ads at you. Almost never are we in the car without music or a podcast. A majority of us can’t even tolerate quiet when we are exhausted but keep the television playing as we attempt to sleep.
Pursuing The Quieter Life means that we must learn to tolerate and then to embrace actual quiet. We must push through our fear of it and learn to enjoy the solace and beauty it offers.
Go on a News Fast
I decided to try this myself as an experiment a while ago. I have found that it is impossible not to know about real developments. If a hurricane is landing somewhere, if a bridge collapses, I’ll hear about it. Given the way media saturates our culture, it is virtually impossible to miss an important headline.
Most of our news culture is not really made up of news, however, but of opinion. Most “news” outlets are just venues for people to engage in endless debate, making the same points repeatedly. People stay hooked into this show not because they are learning anything new, but because the ceaseless outrage keeps them excited. It is a kind of physical addiction that pursuing The Quieter Life requires kicking.
Clarify Your Objectives
If you don’t know where you are headed or what your goals are, your life will be noisier than necessary as you flail around moving from pointless activity to pointless activity. When your objectives are clear, they become a filter by which you can decide what belongs in your life and what does not. This eliminates a lot of noise.
By having such a filter, you do not have to decide a million times a day what belongs in your life and what does not. By clarifying your objectives, you make those decisions only once. What contributes to the achievement of your objectives stays; what doesn’t has to go.
Turn off the Media
This one is related to the idea of a news fast but takes the idea one step further. Instead of merely avoiding the news, make a concerted effort to spend more time away from the media, at least the electronic media. Too many people long for The Quieter Life, but never think they could take a step closer to it just by turning off the television, flipping the laptop shut, or pulling the earbuds out of their heads.
We have innumerable entertainment options. We could all easily spend our lives watching, listening to, or playing along with one of them. Some people confuse such an existence with The Quieter Life, but The Quieter Life is not one of indolent entertainment; instead, it is one in which the deepest levels of meaning are cultivated. Spending too much time immersed in electronic media makes finding these levels of deep meaning nearly impossible.
The Quieter Life is one where commitments and activities are carefully scrutinized. Each one must add value to the whole. Often, this is not the case. We are busy with activities that seem important in themselves, but that, in the context of our whole lives, work as a negative force, subtracting rather than adding to our overall sense of peace and wholeness.
Obviously, the addiction to activity plays into the modern person’s sense of being overwhelmed. But there is a flip side. To pursue The Quieter Life requires overcoming our fear of missing out, our fear that, if we let our foot off the gas and slow down, we will miss the next opportunity, the next big thing. We have all been sold the notion that the good life is one filled to the seams with hobbies, experiences, work. Even a short time living this way makes it clear this is not the path to the good life, and that as we speed through our moments, we too often leave the good life, The Quieter Life, in the dust.
Of course, many more actions than these can quiet a life in the long run. But they say nothing encourages change like immediate results. So, for those of you who need some quiet right now, these five steps are a fast way to start moving toward a slower life.
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Editor’s Note: The featured image is “Lake Mapourika.” Picture taken by Richard Palmer, courtesy of copyrighted work available under Creative Commons.