It has become poor form to tell anyone how busy you are, so I try not to say it at all. I try not to even imply it. And yet, I feel like I wear it as obviously as my bright red raincoat. Even my two year old can pick up on it. He asks me in broken sentences if I’m working when he sees me rushing around.
I clearly needed a break, so I took myself out of the madness just for a couple days. I stayed at a monastery about two hours from Washington, DC where a small group of monks live in silence. I arrived on a Friday night and left on Sunday. For two days I was completely disconnected and literally did not talk to a single person.
They say that silence is golden, but in fact, it’s a little awkward at first. We have become conditioned to saying hello, how are you, thank you, and you’re welcome. It’s odd to eat meals with people and instead of connecting with them verbally, you see them staring out into space, lost in their own thoughts.
But eventually your own true thoughts begin to interrupt your observations and discomfort. You have run out of things to write down, and since you can’t email or text anyone, eventually it is just quiet. And that’s when I remembered something I wish I hadn’t forgotten for all these years.
As I sat there, I realized that my thoughts had become influenced by our society. Over the years, I kept asking myself, “What’s my purpose? What am I supposed to achieve?” This quiet time of reflection allowed me to remember the clear-sighted wisdom from one of my all time favorite books, “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl.
This quote in particular brought it all together:
“It did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life—daily and hourly. Our question must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual”
It was time for me to stop asking myself questions what I wanted out of life and what I wanted to achieve. I needed to start paying attention to what life was asking of me, what was being presented to me, and how I would chose to respond. And so I did. And the time alone in silence was truly golden. Because along with the silence came clarity.
I encourage all of us to consider letting our own true thoughts interrupt us on a more regular basis.
Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl, V., Beacon Press, 2006. p. 77.