Column: The benefits of quietude

It seems natural when we’re in the midst of pursuing our careers and building our families to be pretty much constantly in motion. At that stage of life, even vacations are full of activities and there always seem to be new calls on our time.

Taking the time to just “be,” without dwelling on current worries or future possibilities is an almost impossible indulgence. At times, we may become so frenetic we are actually forced to confront our abused nerves and scattered state of mind and learn calming techniques like mindfulness or meditation.

However, since retiring several years ago, I’ve been surprised to see myself and others continuing to fill our waking hours with a continuing stream of activity. By the time I stopped working, I had already started finding contract writing assignments I could complete from home. For the next 10 months, although I wasn’t making a great deal of money, I had a steady stream of work that kept me occupied several hours a day. Adding to that my responsibilities as a board member of a local nonprofit, and I was pretty busy.

Whether by chance or because a cycle was coming naturally to a close, when my first year of retirement ended, so did the flow of writing tasks that had occupied me. Increased responsibilities with the nonprofit filled in a fair amount of my time. But now there were some “idle” hours, time to spend just laughing and talking with my husband; time to read and join study groups focused on exploring mind and spirit; time to walk and appreciate the natural beauty all around us here in Prescott. Most of all there was more space in my mental atmosphere to simply … be quiet.

When we attempt to quiet the mind, many thoughts and concerns jump into the vacuum. Some are just noise (literally – the last song you heard on the radio or at your Zumba class!). Some are upcoming events or personal encounters that cause anxiety or replays of conversations for which you now find the clever retort you couldn’t think of at the time. We compile the grocery list or think about tonight’s TV schedule. All these thoughts form a distraction that blocks awareness of deeper levels of our nature. It takes practice — and a willingness to explore within — to let these thoughts pass through your mental skies without allowing them to nest in the tree of your attention.

Attending concerts and movies, parties and luncheons, traveling the country or the world can all be expanding experiences that increase our understanding of the world and our sense of joy in life. However, when we fill our time non-stop with activities like these, it may be a signal that we’re avoiding memories of the past or the awareness that we no longer have as many years in front of us as we have behind.

When we take time for self-reflection in our later years, it isn’t necessarily a stress-reliever, but an opportunity to review and come to terms with past life events, to forgive oneself and others for transgressions that long ago became “water under the bridge.” It can help us to get to know ourselves in a new way and discover the special gifts our stage of life can give us. Filling our time up to the brink with activities can be a way to avoid a sense of our own mortality. Yet when we seek the pure experience of being through quietude, that sense can bring us an unparalleled appreciation of the present moment.