After a three-week hiatus, we hitched up Cloud 9 and headed to our favorite backyard park for a weekender. Throughout our stay, we longed for a little peace and quiet — the kind that amplifies the crackle of a campfire or the whir of the wind. Finally, on Sunday afternoon, we found our moment of bliss. No barking dogs. No squealing children. No blaring music. Just the sweet sound of silence.
The 17th-century writer Blaise Pascal said, “All of humanity’s problems stem from our inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
Our “inability to sit quietly,” or to simply be still, emanates from a fear of the emptiness that has long nourished the soul and cultivated the mind. As we observe our fellow campers, it seems like every moment of their time must be spent in some sort of activity or filled with some kind of noise. And, absent any activity or noise, their time must be spent in distraction, preferably via an electronic device.
For all its merits, the smartphone has quickly become a necessary evil of our modern world. In doing so, it has destroyed the value of a “shared moment.” As an example, every time we camp, we make it a point to observe a sunset. Invariably, we see our fellow campers capturing the same event not with their mind’s eye but with their smartphones. Their response to beauty is to place a barrier in front of it…to record something for future enjoyment rather than to live in the present.
A life filled with distractions has no room for sacred silence. Such a life includes all the burdens of loneliness but none of the consolations of solitude. Distraction may be more desirable because it seems like a safer alternative to reality. But when we are still, when we have no wider audience that ourselves, when our private thoughts become treasured memories, when we encounter the Divine in moments of nature, then we can experience a spiritual life that fills us with hope.