Embracing Quiet

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During my recuperation from my knee surgery I was perusing the July issue of Good Housekeeping and I saw an advertisement for a really cute pair of sandals from Target. They were exactly the style and color that I wanted and so once I was able to walk without crutches and drive myself I went to the local Target to see if I might find a pair in my size. To my utter dismay there were very few signs of summer left in the store. Instead the place was filled with Back to School items and fall colors. It seemed a bit incongruent that a magazine advertisement would feature a pair of shoes that were no longer available but that has become the way things work.  

A few days ago a friend posted a photo of Jack-o-lantern fire pits that were for sale at her grocery store and she insisted that it was a bit too early for such things given that Halloween is a good three months away. Unfortunately such retail shenanigans have become a way of life. I’ve seen fall displays at Cracker Barrel, Michael’s, and Hobby Lobby. In fact, there are even some Christmas items beginning to show up here and there. The annual Hallmark ornament preview always comes in July and catalogues with Christmas decorations have begun to fill up my mailbox. 

I am a very linear person and I prefer taking things one step at a time. I plan ahead for certain long term situations but mostly I like to enjoy the moment. It’s difficult to simply relax in the summer sun when the retailers are pushing us ahead to the fall and winter months. I’ve learned the unfortunate truth that if I wait until a particular occasion actually arrives I may not be able to find any of the things that I want. Last Christmas I needed a wreath hanger three weeks before December 25, and there were none to be had. A clerk at one store told me that they had sold out by the end of November. I was scurrying around with other frustrated shoppers who like me had simply waited too long to purchase our holiday cheer.

I sometimes wonder if the world is actually speeding up as fast as it seems to be or if I am just getting a bit too old to keep up with the frenetic pace. I am from the generation that finished the school year just before Memorial Day and didn’t return until after Labor Day. Now the summer vacation just gets shorter and shorter every year. Some school districts went a week into June before dismissing and most of my teacher chums who are still working will be back in the saddle again quite soon. The old three month holiday is more like seven or eight weeks now and even the length of the school day is a bit longer than it was when I was a student. I suspect that slowly but surely the amount of time off will decrease almost without anyone noticing.

The really hilarious time change is that of the election cycle. We used to get a break between campaigns but now we are subjected to non-stop electioneering. Surely we don’t need to hear from the candidates so far in advance. I’d hate to live in Iowa or New Hampshire where the people have been swarmed by presidential hopefuls day after day. It’s beginning to seem like a circus led by P.T. Barnum who so famously boasted, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” In fact, when I watch all of the political pandering I am reminded of another Barnum zinger, “ Nobody ever lost a dollar by underestimating the taste of the American public.” 

Perhaps it is the nature of those who have retired like me to slow down the pace of things. Maybe the youngsters don’t really mind that we are rushed from one season to the next and one occasion to the other. I may be showing my age when I speak of a time when we moved more slowly and purposefully. I loved those summer evenings of my youth when we visited my grandparents in Arkansas and just sat for hours on the porch watching the tiny lights of the fireflies and gazing at the moon and the stars. We had no plans other than to relax. We were totally in the moment, not thinking about what might come next. Just remembering those special times slows down my heartbeat and fills me with the most remarkable calm.

One of my daughters had a bit of car trouble the other day on her way home from work. She began to stall just as she was entering Interstate 59. The response of the other drivers was to honk their horns, give her the one finger salutes, and yell unprintable epithets at her. It’s sad that not one person offered to help because there was a time when she would have been rescued quickly by a good Samaritan. We now seem to be too busy rushing around to take the time to be good neighbors. Our days are filled with appointments and places to go. We have to hurry up to keep up. We freak out when our finely tuned schedules are interrupted. We measure the success of our days by the number of things that we accomplish.

I have a dear friend who has mastered the art of meditation. She once spent time on a retreat that put her in touch with her soul. As part of the ritual her hair was shorn so that she would not have to worry with it. She walked to her destination in her bare feet so that she might feel the earth beneath her. She was silent so that she might hear the sound of her own breathing and the hum of nature around her. She prayed and read spiritual tracts. The experience was exhilarating. She felt a renewal of spirit that was indescribable. 

Few of us take even a few minutes each day to really get in touch with ourselves. We do not find those moments of silence during which we shed our responsibilities and just feel the essence of our existence and yet deep down inside we understand that there is great power in letting the world go even for just a bit. It is an exercise that should be as much a part of our daily routine as eating, and working, and sleeping. 

We often look for the answers to life’s big questions outside of ourselves when the truth is that they are mostly found inside. The most successful and happy people that I know are those who have learned the art of reflection and finding a quiet place to retreat. It is a special gift that they give themselves no matter how busy their lives may be. For some it may be reading from the Bible. For others it will be saying prayers. Some find solace in exercise, yoga, walking. Others watch the birds and the animals as they fly and scamper about. There are those who simply sit and let go of all of the thoughts that are crowding their brains. They just listen to the beating of their hearts and the sound of the breaths that they take. For those who have mastered the art it is rewarding and fulfilling. 

I suppose that we all have to go with the flow of life and learn to adjust. If we must purchase our pumpkin scented candles in July, then so be it. We simply need to remember that we never have to get so caught up in the rat race that we forget to enjoy the simple pleasure of allowing time for ourselves. Learning how to slow down each day will bring us both health and happiness. When we make out those schedules we need to pencil in time just for ourselves.

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