We suffer today from what was termed “temporal exhaustion” by sociologist Elise Boulding who taught at Dartmouth from 1978 until her retirement in 1985. Temporal exhaustion is the idea that our lives have become so fast-paced and over-scheduled that we suffer fatigue from it all. Thanks to the new communication technologies, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed with information. Professor Boulding explains the importance of allowing yourself processing time:
“If one is mentally out of breath all the time from dealing with the present, there is no energy left for imagining the future.”
This is not a new idea. It goes back at least to the Axial Age and is expressed, in one way or another, by many of the world’s religious traditions: the idea that you need to “be still” in order to apprehend enlightenment. The stillness referred to is a mental state, not physical. A quiet mind. Don’t forget to take time for yourself. Calm down. Listen. Cut off the dead vines. Don’t over function. End the toxic attitudes. De-stress.
An agitated mind is going to struggle with these ideas, especially the activity junkies among us—those people who cope with reality through constant busy-ness and who seem to fear the quiet. People have tried to refute the idea of silence by saying things like “an idle mind is the Devil’s playground.” This sounds more like mental illness than an attack by the Evil One, and one can only ask, “Really? You feel like the Devil is at play inside your head? How often does this happen? What do you think the Devil is telling you to do? Did he make you sign a non-disclosure agreement?”
The feeling of one’s thoughts rushing like river rapids or running into each other like falling dominoes is familiar to many people. And some creative ideas do come out of these mash ups. But if you’re making noise, it’s hard to hear anyone but yourself.
And there’s the danger: that you will miss significant incoming info that could be vital. It is through the interplay of different ideas that we find flaws in our own thought process and that leads us to better analysis. Critical thinking does not occur in a vacuum. Our thought interacts with the thought of others, causing us to revise our point of view to be more accurate.
Quieting the noise takes discipline and practice, but it’s worth the effort. Start by scheduling some quiet time for yourself.
“Don’t let the sound of your own wheels make you crazy.” –Jackson Browne