Thursday, December 17, 2009

An Experiment with Grand Silence

"Life is changing at a relentlessly fast pace. And while many pundits rue the day when everyone read more and watched television less, they fail to understand that through email blasts and other social media sites luminaries such as Guy Kawasaki and Seth Godin are streaming nearly non-stop content focused, in large part, on keeping their RSS feed audiences up-to-date with the nuances of the changing face of technology and the world in general.

"Between hundreds of emails each day and the constant stream, and mosquito-like annoyance, of instant messages demanding their attention, people are actually reading more now than ever. But rather than reading for pleasure, reading has become a manic attempt to stay current with changing elements of their profession and the world in general."

Snowfall Press, in an appendix of While You Were Micro-Sleeping
So much information coming in a constant stream. It's exhilarating, but also taps into the compulsive side of my personality. I find it hard to unplug.

"The world is changing so rapidly, leaders who stop learning for even the shortest period of time dance with underachievement and irrelevance," says Steve Moore in his introduction to While You Were Micro-Sleeping.

It is a bit overwhelming, isn't? And here I am, thinking I can pull out of the missions world for six months. That's no micro-sleep! When I awake, and (presumably) try to step back into the comfortable role of being an information broker, am I going to feel like Rip Van Winkle?

It's a chance I'm willing to take. There's a time for everything.

In hopes of breaking the addiction, I've been experimenting with a pattern inspired by the monastic practice of Grand Silence. Monks and nuns commit themselves to cease all conversation with others at a certain point in the evening, not to resume until after morning prayers. They do it every night. The point, I believe, is to clear one's mind to focus on God, hearing from him perhaps, and to be at peace. To offer others that peace as well. Unless there is an emergency, they do not speak.

I don't live with a dozen or more women, as a nun might - just one. And she's often in her room and/or asleep when I'm at home. Yet I don't feel as if my evenings or mornings at home are silent, because technology has introduced so many other ways of communicating.

I never text and spend little time on the phone, but I have my radio on most mornings and evenings, and usually tuned to NPR. Laptop is on too, and it's a portal to all kinds of information and communication, thanks to all the great tools we have: I hear from hundreds of people through email, Facebook, Twitter, and an aggregate of blogs, newsletters, keyword subscriptions and the like. What a day we live in. The information flow is constant. But, inheriting the weaknesses or habits of a long line of alcoholics and addicts, I respond compulsively.

But I have to tell you, Grand Silence is working for me. By day, I'm an information broker. But more evenings than not I've been able to staunch the information flow and silence the voices, to live in a more peaceful world. No internet, no radio. We already canceled the newspaper except on weekends, and TV holds little temptation. So it's just me, and maybe a book; music is OK, but it's best if it doesn't have any words.

I feel better already. It's good to get out of that relentless stream of information. I can sense God's presence more without all the noise.

As the song says: Let every heart prepare him room.

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