This post is a bit of a mess. Instead of advice to give or stories to tell, I just have questions to ask and a problem to solve.
My problem is that I have not been resting well.
When I get tired in the afternoon, instead of napping or reading or taking a walk, I scroll through social media for an hour or two. Then when it’s time to get back to work, I feel lethargic and restless.
I have this theory that if I limit my social media use, I’ll actually rest when I’m tired and be more focused and excited about my work. But I haven’t been able to restrain myself. Why?
Why do I spend so much time engaged with these electronic realities instead of with my physical one?
In an On Being interview, poet Marie Howe says, “It hurts to be present.” I live in my favorite place on earth. I eat my mother’s cooking for most meals. I have a good part of every day to myself, to do with as I please. I get about eight hours of sleep every night. How does being present hurt, when, by all accounts, I should be happy?
Maria Popova adds dimension to Howe’s statement when she writes, “To be bored is to be unafraid of our interior lives.” Oh, that helps! My exterior life may be fine, but isn’t my interior life—where my secret thoughts and emotions live—bound to be intimidating if I am unfamiliar with it, if I have neglected it?
Could it be that as a substitute for bravely confronting the events of the day and my reactions to them, I turn to Twitter and Facebook and Instagram to filter and abstract my experiences? Instead of creating meaning within myself and from the life I have actually lived, I extract meaning from a screen that offers imperfect depictions of other people’s lives.
Rumi wrote, “Your old life was a frantic running/from silence.” Yes, that’s what this is! Running to my devices, hoping to find noise to drown out myself.
So what should I do? How do I sit with the painful present? How do I make peace with the silence?
In One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp practices thankfulness to pull herself out of the rut of distraction.
When I fully enter time’s swift current, enter into the current moment with the weight of all my attention, I slow the torrent with the weight of me all here….Here-time asks me to do the hardest of all: just open wide and receive….I redeem time from neglect and apathy and inattentiveness when I swell with thanks.
This practice requires being present in body and mind (no running) in order to see what is happening in this moment and giving thanks for it, whether it is ugly or beautiful. It requires facing the fear and pain of gazing into self.
But how? How do I cultivate this tolerance for presence? Bertrand Russell suggests the boredom Popova mentioned: “Too much excitement not only undermines the health, but dulls the palate for every kind of pleasure….A certain power of enduring boredom is therefore essential to a happy life.” The less time I spend on social media, the less I want to, and the more pleasure I am capable of finding off screen. As Voskamp says, “The slower the living, the greater the sense of fullness and satisfaction.”
And this idea of slowing down, backing off from excitement and embracing boredom, might just help me work better. Popova says, “Boredom…[is] a vital [emotion]—with its related faculties of contemplation, solitude, and stillness, it is essential for the life of the mind.” With all of my free time spent staring at a screen, consuming the experiences and ideas of others, I have no opportunity for boredom in which to process my own lived life, which leaves me vapid as I approach work and relationships.
Marie Poulin recommends scheduling margin into one’s life, leaving space for fresh growth to occur instead of filling every moment with routine actions. So: less mindless scrolling, but what in its stead? My hall director once said, “Sabbath isn’t necessarily a day of slumber, but a day of delight.” In moments of rest, I can choose delight, deep joy.
And yes, delight may take more effort than checking Twitter, but I think I’m up for the challenge.