On the recent and lovely occasion of my yearly mammogram, I found that my radiology office’s waiting room had, since my last visit, been upgraded to include a blaring TV set. I walked in, and along with a mom and her 8-year-old daughter, was treated to a war movie, of all things – angry, aggressive, screaming men, clashing weapons, bedlam and cacophony. I asked about the reasons for introducing the TV into the waiting room and the woman at the desk told me, seriously, that a lot of people had complained that it was too quiet.
My mouth dropped open. Never mind the fact that there is no natural, historic or biological human need for noise. Never mind the fact that any intelligent human who needs to be entertained certainly also has the capacity to entertain themselves, as opposed to relying on the world to entertain them (and disturbing others in the process). What is most frustrating about this, is that this trend, this need for constant external stimuli, is taking us further and further away from something that is crucial in our personal growth, our understanding of ourselves, and our feeling of connectedness to the people and world around us: silence.
And of course, the people who complained that it was too quiet in the waiting room were primarily adults, I’d imagine: who very likely have children. If Mom or Dad can’t stand a few minutes in a doctor’s waiting room with just a magazine, a book that they may have brought, a few unstructured minutes staring at the walls listening to the music or even a game on their phone, it’s a pretty sure bet their kids won’t grow up with that ability either.
A therapist friend, after hearing the tale of my waiting room woes (I asked the front desk gal if she wouldn’t mind simply muting it until someone else complained, and she agreed), said, “Susan, you wouldn’t believe how many of my patients absolutely cannot tolerate sitting alone with their own thoughts.”
So much of what I’ve been reading over the past few years — truly a period where I would describe myself as waking up — discusses the benefits, the importance, the absolute necessity of meditation, in whatever form that takes: true meditation (harder than anything I’ve ever tried to do, mind you, but something I will pursue for the rest of my life), for which I use “Mindfulness in Plain English” as my guide; or simply time out in nature (see “Last Child in the Woods”), daily breathing exercises focused on kindness, self-acceptance, authenticity, the release of resistance and a hundred other fantastic concepts (“The Book of Awakening”), and stepping back and becoming aware of the constant chatter of the ego (Eckhart Tolle’s “A New Earth”) – these are just a few examples, but they involve one thing: silence, often stillness, and time with my own thoughts.
I hardly expect my 6- and 8-year-old kids to sit for hours in full lotus position, chakras spinning madly as they experience the blue light, a complete disconnection from their ego and a full comprehension of the connectedness of all matter in the universe (maybe when they’re twelve). But kids can walk in the woods; kids can pray; kids can stare at clouds. Much of what I see my kids do is in a way meditative: my son comes up with some fantastic questions (his latest: “Which do you like best: tomorrow, today, or yesterday?”), completely out of the blue, when he’s driving his cars, or building something from his imagination out of his Legos. My daughter makes potholders, paints and builds doll cities out of whatever she can find, with block buildings, scarf streets and jeweled architectural details. This time of quiet, and unimpeded free thought, will ensure that solitude is not scary for them, their thoughts are not too tormenting to tolerate, and perhaps will set them on their way toward perhaps one day digging deeper and maybe truly going the way of the hours-long lotus-position journey into their deepest selves (though I better get there first!).
But what of the child that falls asleep to the TV, wakes up with the iPod, texts on the way to school, sits in class all day, watches a DVD in Mom’s minivan on the way home, has the TV on while they do homework and eat dinner, texting all the while, plays video games, watches YouTube videos, then sets the timer on the TV at bedtime and does it all over again? This is not uncommon. Teens especially, these days, are living their lives with hardly a moment free of digital stimuli. What does the future hold for them, in terms of being connected to the reality and nuances of other people and the world vs. being disconnected and unaware; in terms of being able to self-reflect and analyze and problem-solve when their life hits rough spots vs. blaming the world and reaching for the Atavan; in terms of being able to separate out the motivations of their egos (so manipulated by advertisers and a materialistic culture) vs. what truly leads to kindness, self-acceptance, respect for the environment and an end to divisiveness, blame and hatred?
Like much of what we talk about here, what seems like the right thing to do often involves bucking the status quo, the trend, and the norms of our culture. And all of what seems like the right thing to do, we must first do ourselves, as parents: eat right, resist the exhortations of advertising, be conscious of the resources we use. Turning off the TV goes a lot farther than saying, “Turn off the TV.” Leaving our own phone in our purse or pocket goes a lot farther than giving our kids a hard time for texting at the dinner table.
Quietude is a skill and a facility that can be developed like anything else. Being an aspiring yogini, I end up getting asked about yoga a lot, and I often hear that people have tried yoga but couldn’t stand it — because it’s boring, or they can’t stand being still. I heard this from a woman whose kids are not hard to pick out in a crowd: they operate at maximum volume, are emotionally intense, whiny, complaining, blaming. Just as developing abs or the ability to play piano takes repetition and practice, quietude can also be developed through repetition and practice. I told her the reason she couldn’t stand yoga was the very reason she should keep coming back. She laughed. I don’t know if she ever did, but I wish her peace.
Developing our own level of comfort with stillness, quiet and the company of our own thoughts will show our kids that this is a normal part of life – and can lead to great understanding, peace and joy.
Yours in yogininess,
Red Pill Mama