The value in silence: disconnection and recollection

posted at 5:21 pm on July 22, 2014 by Ed Morrissey

For a palate cleanser today, let’s talk about … not talking. As many of you already know, I spent almost four days in a silent retreat last weekend starting on Thursday afternoon, my third year in a row of engaging in an Ignatian retreat. I wrote about it in my column for The Week today, which prompted one interesting response on Twitter:

Well, hopefully not “insufferable.” It’s been an interesting, enlightening, and ultimately humbling experience, which is the aspect I shared in the column today:

More and more, all of us live under the expectation of constant connection. We barely get time for sleeping, let alone having regular intervals of the quiet solitude needed to process all of this data to find its meaning. Ubiquitous connection rarely goes unused, either by those looking for people who are taking a break, or more so by the break-takers themselves. We feel compelled to post to social media when we should be socializing with family and friends, and tweeting life as observers instead of living it.

It’s easy to feel victimized by this, but it’s really a self-inflicted conceit. We become the center of our own worlds, with the constant connection a validation of our own importance. The removal of that connection does not disturb anyone else, but the removal of that validation makes it clear that the world spins on without us. And when we return, we discover that not much really changes in the time we spent away from social media, away from the office, and even away from friends and family.

Even when I knew it was coming, that realization still had its shock effect. When I returned home this time, I tarried on the drive, making a couple of stops along the way for groceries after discovering (in a cell phone call that began just as I cleared the gates of the retreat center) that my wife had missed me but otherwise had a perfectly fine weekend without me. Over 280 emails awaited me when I got back to my computer — but only three of them required a reply. While stories arose and developed on the newswires, media outlets, and Twitter, my colleagues handled them just fine without me. It took me very little time to re-enter the online media environment, and few noticed my absence or my return.

Withdrawing from the world turns out not to be transgressive after all, but it’s edifying. What reallyfrightens us about going entirely silent, disconnecting, and gaining some perspective is also what make it so valuable. We depart believing in some way that we’re God, and then return realizing that we’re not. Even if that’s all I gained from this retreat — and it’s not — it would have been time well spent.

I got much more from this retreat than this understanding, of course, but this is a worthwhile lesson, too. The awareness of one’s own place in the universe is never quite so pointed as when one returns from this disconnection to find that the world kept spinning without you, or more precisely, without everyone’s awareness of you. That’s not an argument for concluding that one’s input has no worth, but it does keep it in somewhat better perspective.

Normally, I link to a few other posts when writing about my columns, and I almost added this to the post about Timothy Egan’s column this weekend, which I was fortunate enough to miss during my retreat. On further thought, though, it seemed out of place to tie this to other topics. Read it all, and I’ll look forward to your comments.

Breaking on Hot Air

Blowback

Note from Hot Air management: This section is for comments from Hot Air's community of registered readers. Please don't assume that Hot Air management agrees with or otherwise endorses any particular comment just because we let it stand. A reminder: Anyone who fails to comply with our terms of use may lose their posting privilege.

Trackbacks/Pings

Trackback URL

Comments

.

M240H on July 22, 2014 at 5:24 PM

Interesting.

I’ve long advocated a life with less noise (we don’t have a car radio or a TV, & we rarely use the home radio or listen to music), but I’ve never considered going on a speechless “fast.”

Most people are indeed too addicted to noise.
It’s as if they’re afraid to be alone with their thoughts, so they require others–& things–to dictate what they should think about.

itsnotaboutme on July 22, 2014 at 5:29 PM

oh ___, another insufferable unplugging article?

His disrespect of God here is a clue as to the reason for his clueless-ness.

itsnotaboutme on July 22, 2014 at 5:32 PM

The church I grew up in was known for its extremely quiet communion services. Most of the time you could hear a pin drop, and the silence was only occasionally interrupted by a hymn, sung a capella, or a brief Scripture reading.

Felt closer to God during those moments of dead silence than any other time.

CurtZHP on July 22, 2014 at 5:33 PM

This is not a comment and you were gone? :)

Schadenfreude on July 22, 2014 at 5:34 PM

It’s easy to feel victimized by this, but it’s really a self-inflicted conceit.

So true Ed….love ya man…bro hug…

ClassicCon on July 22, 2014 at 5:37 PM

In times of great solitude my thoughts drift to Bill and The Energizer.

John the Libertarian on July 22, 2014 at 5:39 PM

I spend 15 minutes each morning on the back porch with a cup of coffee and just listen.

Birds, squirrels, Gulf waves – not exactly 4 days – but a great way to start off the day.

Odie1941 on July 22, 2014 at 5:39 PM

.

M240H on July 22, 2014 at 5:24 PM

Winner.

This is not a comment and you were gone? :)

Schadenfreude on July 22, 2014 at 5:34 PM

*sigh* … more lessons in humility … ;-)

Ed Morrissey on July 22, 2014 at 5:42 PM

Spend more time with family and friends. Enjoy life. You die tomorrow, few will notice, fewer still will be directly effected.

GarandFan on July 22, 2014 at 5:43 PM

Ed, you are so right, it is hard to unplug. I went on a retreat of silence 30 years ago, perhaps I should do it again. I came back renewed, feeling like I stepped closer to God when the clamor of the crazy world was silenced. To learn was the world had not really missed me (yes the kids did) it made me think of Led Zeppelin’s song The Wall. Was I but a brick? But mostly I was reminded that we can’t hear God if we drowned him out with the worldly static. Silence is golden!

Bakokitty on July 22, 2014 at 5:44 PM

From a Jewish perspective, God invented Shabbat to give us the opportunity to unplug from the world every week.

aunursa on July 22, 2014 at 5:44 PM

Shabbat = Sabbath

aunursa on July 22, 2014 at 5:44 PM

I highly recommend leftists withdraw from the world …

darwin on July 22, 2014 at 5:46 PM

And you missed the new Purge movie, fringe benefit!

22044 on July 22, 2014 at 5:54 PM

This happens for me all the time. My job as a captain moving boats long distances, requires unplugging. It is time I absolutely cherish.

The last few years, I have become more of a “facilitator” of this experience for crew members and clients. I have to prepare them for the experience, sometimes baby them through it, and encourage them to embrace it. When the trip is over, the overwhelming response from them is: “when can we do this again?”

Unplugging from this technological borg hive we have created is necessary more than one might think. Try it, you might like it.

captnjoe on July 22, 2014 at 5:55 PM

I guess in one respect I’m fortunate. I could go a weekend without being connected to the world. I find a quiet moment walking the dog (2 miles) in the early hours before most are up.

Silence does not scare me the way it does many I know. My life is not dependent on an Apple Product.

Happy Nomad on July 22, 2014 at 5:58 PM

Silence is a racist dog whistle

faraway on July 22, 2014 at 5:59 PM

Agree with your POV, Ed. I treasure my silent times.

wyntre on July 22, 2014 at 6:00 PM

Snoop Dogg Disconnects by Getting Really High At The White House

Read more: http://dailycaller.com/2014/07/22/snoop-dogg-got-really-high-at-the-white-house-video/

faraway on July 22, 2014 at 6:03 PM

my grandkids get a puzzled look when they visit and we turn off the TV and sit at the table to eat

and my kids both acknowledged how cool it was that we were about the only family on the street that did that almost every night when they were kids, and their friends thought it was as well when they ate with us

As for me, I typically leave my phone in my truck if I meet somebody for lunch. Having a phone doesn’t give anyone unfettered access to me.

DanMan on July 22, 2014 at 6:06 PM

Silence is a racist dog whistle

Darn it, another person saw through the clever ruse!
Good thing they haven’t yet figured out that manners, personal hygiene and consistent employment are all racist plots, as well.
—whoops…

orangemtl on July 22, 2014 at 6:11 PM

I don’t have a problem with unplugging, it’s the silence that would get to me. A few minutes for prayer or contemplation, a couple hours of reading, all are good silent times. But four days? Maybe I just contemplate faster than you, but I find after a relatively short while I wind up in some mental pergatory of a recurring loop function without conversation.

Though I’d probably catch up on sleep, so there is that.

MC88 on July 22, 2014 at 6:17 PM

Silence may be golden for you, Ed, but it would be platinum for us if it were the Windbag in Chief who was exercising that practice.

TXUS on July 22, 2014 at 6:37 PM

…no comment.

JugEarsButtHurt on July 22, 2014 at 6:39 PM

I’m heading into the back country on Sunday. I’ll be working a private claim, alone and out of cell tower distance for about a week. No tv and no internet.
Getting the gold is not the point of the exercise. Its being self-reliant for seven days. Its letting my blood pressure drop and not cursing at the news. Its cutting wood, fetching water and reading whole passages of a book uninterrupted. I’ll come back dirty and blistered, tired and richer. Not for the gold but for the re-alignment.
Well done, Ed.

partsnlabor on July 22, 2014 at 6:49 PM

Try just sitting quietly, eyes closed, meditating, clearing your mind, for one hour.

Like a one-week vacation!

PattyJ on July 22, 2014 at 6:53 PM

I think we’re built to do this. We don’t rest anymore (let alone let the land rest). Lots of people live in a world where it’s never “dark,” where it’s never quiet. I’ve wondered if that alone hasn’t changed what we are — we’re very adaptable.

I’m pretty sure a lot of people would pay real money to keep from having to sit quietly with themselves.

Axe on July 22, 2014 at 7:05 PM

It must be nice to be able to have enough disposable income to spend on doing nothing at an expensive retreat. We envy you, Ed.

HiJack on July 22, 2014 at 7:15 PM

It must be nice to be able to have enough disposable income to spend on doing nothing at an expensive retreat. We envy you, Ed.

HiJack on July 22, 2014 at 7:15 PM

But you could pull yourself out of the stream without ever leaving your house.

Axe on July 22, 2014 at 7:23 PM

………….go ride a motorcycle! We can ‘get’ in 5 miles what some folks spend an entire weekend seeking……..

And the ONLY time Y’all will ever see a motorcycle in front of a Shrink’s office………..is IF He or She OWNS one!

Katfish on July 22, 2014 at 7:47 PM

If you truly unplug, you can’t go back. I’m not sure where you go, but you can’t go back.

tenore on July 22, 2014 at 7:57 PM

Not talking (politics online) given the current administration may result in not being audited…pretty sad to say it’s come to this.

celt on July 22, 2014 at 9:10 PM

It must be nice to be able to have enough disposable income to spend on doing nothing at an expensive retreat. We envy you, Ed.

HiJack on July 22, 2014 at 7:15 PM

I know that I am very blessed in my situation, but the retreat center operates only on donations. Those of us who can give more do so, while those who cannot are never turned away. That’s a commitment that the center has kept since they opened.

Ed Morrissey on July 22, 2014 at 9:15 PM

We become the center of our own worlds, with the constant connection a validation of our own importance. The removal of that connection does not disturb anyone else, but the removal of that validation makes it clear that the world spins on without us. And when we return, we discover that not much really changes in the time we spent away from social media, away from the office, and even away from friends and family.

HA gives me the validation that I’m not the only tin-hat right-wing-nut-job in the universe — thanks, guys & gals.

Going out for 2 weeks to Philmont Scout Ranch. Not totally unplugged, but will have to work harder to stay connected, so maybe I won’t bother.

As for relevant songs, my choice is from ” Without You” from “My Fair Lady” where Higgins’ attempt to bully Eliza into coming back to him meets a pretty strong push-back of “she just ain’t that much in to you, dude.”

Eliza: What a fool I was, what a dominated fool
To think that you were the Earth and sky
What a fool I was, what an addlepated fool
What a mutton-headed dolt was I

No, my reverberating friend
You are not the beginning and the end.
..

Eliza: There’ll be spring every year without you
England still will be here without you
There’ll be fruit on the tree
And a shore by the sea
There’ll be crumpets and tea without you

Art and music will thrive without you
Somehow Keats will survive without you
And there still will be rain on that plain down in Spain
Even that will remain without you,
I can do without you!

Eliza: Without your pulling it the tide comes in
Without your twirling it, the Earth can spin
Without your pushing them, the clouds roll by
If they can do without you, ducky, so can I

* * *
Songwriters
Jonathan Larson

Published by
FINSTER & LUCY MUSIC LTD. CO.;UNIVERSAL MUSIC CORPORATION

AesopFan on July 23, 2014 at 5:59 AM