I want to revisit silence for a tiny bit. And add in stillness.
There is a fantastic song by Rush called “Time Stand Still“, which my friend Rich recently brought to my attention in a wonderful Facebook post earlier this month. In the song, the person doesn’t want to go back in time, they aren’t looking back. They want to look around now, see more of the people and places that surround them now, to paraphrase their lyrics. The premise of the song is “this moment”, staying in it, being present in it. (Again, I’ll talk about Rush in another post – it’s worth it.)
Carthusian monks are some of the most rested people in the world, this despite getting up in the middle of the night for 3+ hour liturgy of the hours. Now, this could be because all they do in their cells is sleep all day, but I’m going to be pious and assume that they aren’t doing that. It could be that the life of a silent monk that sits around his cell and area all day isn’t all that taxing. Which would be true, but how many of you out there would spend a whole day by your lonesome without getting a little stir crazy? I would think that the monks spend every day thinking about what they are doing right then, not whats going to happen next week. (I should do a post of my favorite monks and their charisms!)
So the ultra conservative silent monks and the prog rock band Rush both have something in common. What is this thing that is so important that monks and a rock band, two things generally NOT the same, both see the value of it? Why is time, the present, the now, so important that we want to have it, keep it, have more of it? It has to be something ingrained in our natural selves, else only those with a religious bent or those with a secular bent would would be focused on it.Well, I have a theory and it stems from discoveries I’m making as I progress in this illness.
When ALS hits, everything becomes slower. Movements that used to be second nature are difficult. Everything is slower. Tying shoes? Buttoning buttons? Shaving, shower, walking up and down stairs, talking… (Heck man, don’t even talk about picking your nose!) This can be frustrating to both me and to those around me as they have to slow down to let me catch up with words or walking, etc. It takes patience to deal with (which I do not have). But the forced slowdown allows the person to experience the present and not be moving from one thing to the next all the time. Experiencing the present allows for true enjoyment of everything around us, our family and friends, our prayers, our work, our environment, heck even the movie or smart phone we are looking at. ALS kind of forces you to do this, but also opens the door for escapism, to use the illness as a way to push others away. To avoid the present or the things around us by focusing on the me. So let me be vulnerable for a moment.
Yesterday at the Arlington Diocese Men’s conference, one of the topics addressed (which I will link if and when it’s posted online) was also being in the present moment, because “the past is gone, the future doesn’t exist yet.” I was convicted by this speaker as I’m often guilty of the “noonday devil”, wishing I were somewhere else (working on my wheelchair idea), working somewhere else (working for an F1 team), majored in something else (engineering), afflicted by some other disease (… NOT ALS).
This takes me away from the here and now, from the present moment and the responsibilities that I do have here. (It’s not wrong to want those things, I don’t think, but it is wrong to let them overtake us out of our responsibilities).
When I was able to speak normally, I spoke a lot. A LOT. (Just ask Mel, and then listen to my mini-me Luke to see how much I talked.) Even now, I talk a lot and that probably contributes to how tired I am at the end of the day. I just feel like I have a lot to say! It’s also a huge selfish problem of not actually listening to people. You know, because, I have a lot to say. But now I speak less. It’s hard. It’s frustrating, and I don’t express my inability to speak in a good way – I get impatient, in other words. This isn’t helpful to me or my family, it takes me away from them, from the now and what I’m supposed to be doing.
As I’m able to speak less, I need to listen more. It’s amazing what other people say, what my children say, the beauty of the noises outside. It needs to affect how I respond to questions or conversations. Lately I’ve been wanting to not speak, to just sit in silence and let others talk. I don’t think it is a conscious thing, I think it’s just been happening. Part of me likes it, part of me is scared. This must be similar to what those monks experience in their hermitage, contemplating, but with one big addition – I can’t be a monk. I can be a third order somehow, I can choose to embrace their charism, even bring it into my family prayer, but I’m not a monk. But I still want to learn how to be more in the present.
There is the secret that Rush is wanting to reach and Carthusian monks devote their lives to – they are in the present, augmented by silence and stillness, which is incredibly restful. Just think, all the anxieties that we have for the upcoming week – I have to work, I have to schedule this or that, Mel has to get the kids to school, Jack has practice, etc, it stresses us out and tires us starting mentally and moving physically. We can’t put aside all these concerns all the time and be irresponsible, because we live in the world and we aren’t monks and nuns, but we can take part of our day to focus on the present and capture the rest that comes with that. I’m blessed that it is forced upon me and my impatience is… hopefully getting a little better.
Thanks reader-land, you guys rock. Especially my Slug mate who I had the most wonderful conversations with on the way to and fro the retreat!