How are your listening skills doing these days? Do people really listen to you when you talk? Do you really listen when others speak?
When no one’s listening, communication breaks down and misunderstandings increase. One way to “reset” our ears is to spend three minutes in silence each day, according to Julian Treasure in his TED Talk, “5 Ways to Listen Better,” in which he warns us that we are losing our ability to truly listen.
Silence is a rare commodity even in nature, but one way you can experience it is to take a trip to your local Best Buy. Go to the headphones section and make your way to the Bose Sound-Canceling display. Choose the most expensive display model, wipe the ear pieces with an antibacterial wipe, and pop those puppies on your head. In an instant, you will experience the sound of silence—something you may never have experienced in a world where we create machines to generate white noise to drown out more noise. (Which I suppose may be how these headphones actually work, but trust me, this is closer to silence than running a fan all night will ever be.) When you take the headphones off, you’ll experience sound differently for a time, and you’ll be actively listening to what is going on around you. (Of course if you have more fun money than I have, you could always take a pair home so you can experience silence anywhere headphones can be worn.)
Your eyes also benefit from silence. In a way, reading is like hearing through our eyes. Many of us spend hours staring at words and pictures on a computer monitor or smart phone. Receiving information through the Internet is a bit like sweetened, condensed communication (as opposed to milk). A little goes a long way, and it needs to be diluted with less over-powering input to avoid sensory overload, which also can thwart our ability to listen well.
I’ve cut way back on my social media consumption over the past few weeks. At first, it was necessary as unexpected events limited my free time. Then, I realized I didn’t need to read every Facebook post. I didn’t need to know about breaking news stories first. I don’t need to weigh in on every trending hash-tag topic. I still check out my close friends news feeds, but I may not like and comment as often. If a friend really needs feedback, I know I’ll get a private message or phone call or face-to-face chat. I’m not shutting down my accounts, but I’m cutting back on my consumption for now. By building some silence into my life, I hope I can listen better and communicate better.
What about you? Do you need to build some social media silence into your life?
Last night, I had about 450 minutes of respite from Input, and I slept well.
Deep sleep visited me, unlike the night before—a night of restlessness born from a bubbling slough of unconscious anxieties. The battles I fight right now are mere skirmishes, practices even. In that sense, I have no right to become anxious or sleepless, and yet it happens more often than I like when I allow Input to balloon out of control.
Sleepwalking days follow wakeful nights. I’ve dubbed them “Lost Days” because though I move and function and take care of vital tasks, I’m not one hundred percent. The lack of sleep puts stress on my immune system like a hot day taxing a freezer sitting out in the full sun. I feel physically ill. Sometimes I even run a slight temperature. I am mentally fogged. Taking a long afternoon nap in bed perpetuates the problem of night-time insomnia for me, so I fight through the long, Lost Day, catching a cat nap on the couch when necessary, and then go to bed at a reasonable hour, surrendering to sleep and the comfort of blank sheets.
When I awoke at 5:30 a.m. this morning, I tried to return to the bliss of sleep’s respite, but I could not. Instead, I realized the previous day had been spent recovering from an Input-binge hangover. The last couple of weeks have been full of information and social media and reading and researching ideas for projects in progress. Not only was my desk cluttered, but my mind felt cluttered.
This morning after my night’s reboot, it was time to create a blank slate in my work space as well. So, between 5:30 and 6:04 a.m. I did just that.
- I cleared my desk.
- I pulled all of the sticky notes off the wall in front of my desk except for one, “…the blank page is a magic box.” (J. J. Abrams, TED Talk)
- I thought about writing on paper, but instead I chose to clear my computer—metaphorically. I shut down all programs except my word processor. I did not check email. I did not check social media. I went straight to my no-distractions blank page mode in Scrivener (the writing software I use), and I began to write.
It was a clean start to a new day.
How will you reduce your Input load today?
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If your house caught fire, your loved ones (including pets) were safe, and you had time to save one thing, what would it be?
Before off-site digital storage existed, photographs would have been the top answer for many because they are irreplaceable. We can’t go back in time and capture those moments again.
And yet, within a generation or two, many of those priceless images become worthless and meaningless. Printed photographs find their way into flea market bins anonymous and mute regarding their history. Their unclaimed digital cousins may simply be erased or eventually released onto public domain sites where they will become meme fodder for coming generations. How can something priceless become worthless in such a short time?
Family photos are priceless to us because they are story triggers, no matter their aesthetic quality. They help us remember who we are, where we started, and how far we’ve come. No matter how well a photograph is composed, however, it is unable to speak beyond its proverbial one thousand words. We need words written, spoken, or acted out in relationship to know the full story behind the image. A picture detached from its story becomes meaningless to all but those rare, curious souls compelled to solve the mysteries the image is incapable of revealing on its own.
So where are all of these thoughts coming from? This week, I’m excited to say I’ve taken on a new writing project. I’m helping my dad write down his stories with the goal of turning them into a memoir that can be shared.
Spending so much time delving into my past and the past beyond my past has been a bit like taking a vacation from the present. It’s not where I want to live long-term, but it has been enjoyable to revisit the familiar, best-loved family stories and to hear new stories that my dad has never told me before. It has been an exercise in remembering and discovering the deeper stories behind my mind’s “pictures” of our family’s history. I’ve gotten to know my parents better, and it has been both humbling and instructive to look back at our journeys so far.
I’d like to encourage you to take some time this week to consider which stories in your life help you to remember who you are, where you’ve been, and where you’re going. Take time to share your stories and listen to others’ stories so we can remember our lives are not meaningless. Focus on the ones that reveal the priceless truths and mysteries behind the image you present to the world. Though we, like our photographs, may be forgotten, let us not allow the important stories that reveal life’s truths end up forgotten on a flea market table.
A picture may be worth 1000 words, but its story may be worth 10,000 more.
Photo: From my family’s photo archives.
Lately, every time I turn around it seems someone I know is experiencing a major challenge in life. Some are fighting life-threatening illnesses or the loss of loved ones and others are facing major life transitions. The rest of us who are not currently at the battle front are having to search our hearts and souls as the world seems especially chaotic as of late, and the constant change is forcing us to confront our core values, beliefs, and ability to show love and grace without losing our integrity. Whether we know it or not, we’re all experiencing loss in one way or another.
The short article that follows is one I originally wrote for a publication targeted at Third Culture Kids (TCKs), but I never submitted it. One characteristic of TCKs is that they often experience loss at a higher rate than normal because of their family’s nomadic lifestyle. But no matter our upbringing, we all experience loss. I hope that you find these thoughts helpful and even hopeful, wherever you may find yourself on the journey today.
May sunshine poured onto the rural church, and people spilled out and around it—not because they were leaving but because they couldn’t get in. An unexpected death had brought us together that day; my college suitemate had lost her father. The call had come on one of the last days of the semester, and my other suitemates and I made the journey to support our friend at the funeral.
We found ourselves unable to get into the sanctuary, so we tucked ourselves away on an out-of-the-way staircase along with other mourners. Even as loved ones exhaled their grief, the spring breeze breathed back bits and pieces of the loving goodbyes going on in the heart of the church.
I could not see what was happening, and I could not hear much. I had only met my suitemate’s father once or twice in passing. Physically and emotionally, I was disconnected from the goings on, so I was unprepared for a wave a grief that made me weep during the service. Later, when my suitemate came and found us, it happened again. I felt weak. I wanted to be the one comforting her, not the other way around. But she pointed out that her father’s death still hadn’t sunk in for her, and it hadn’t been that long since the death of my younger brother. Maybe I was still grieving that.
She was right. I had not fully grieved my brother’s death, but I would come to the realization many years later that even if my brother’s death were the taproot of that outpouring of grief, hundreds of secondary roots contributed as well. I just did not know it at the time.
Though my parents are missionaries, my experience was different from many Missionary Kids (MKs). My parents’ roles as consultants and trainers kept us on the move throughout my elementary years in which I attended nine schools and visited fifteen countries. For the remainder of my school years, we were based in the United States. So when I compared myself to other MKs who spent most of their lives in one country with occasional trips back to the States, I came to the conclusion that I was not really an MK in the classical sense.
Throughout high school and college, I chose to try and blend in with the monocultural majority, avoiding the subject of my upbringing with all but my closest friends. As a young adult, I began to see how rich my childhood had been, and I chose to focus on the opportunities that my parents had given me. It would take most of a decade and a bout of major depression for me to fully accept that I was a Third Culture Kid and to understand just how much loss I had experienced in my early years.
When I was working through depression in my early 30s, a counselor who worked primarily with TCK’s recommended that I make a list of all of my losses—not just deaths, but the loss of homes, friends, experiences, and possessions. The list was long, and I felt guilty making it. Yet, there was also a sense of release.
Naming the losses helped me continue the process of grieving that I had subconsciously been going through all along. I began to understand why movies about the search for home fascinated me, and why the funeral of someone I didn’t know made me weep. I began to understand why I carried around a box of letters from my childhood friends, even if I never read them.
When we initially face a loss, shock allows us to pack our bags, say our goodbyes, and get on with the necessities of life. At some point, however, we have to give ourselves the time and place to grieve. Otherwise, when losses accumulate unexamined and unacknowledged, the pent up grief will catch us unaware, and we cannot understand why we are grieving a grief that was not ours to grieve. But if we take a peek at the flotsam left behind after the force of the flood, we see so many leavings and losings have been dislodged by the seemingly unrelated event.
It can seem that intentionally focusing on losses is an exercise in complaint or pessimism and will increase the pain. But like a dammed up river that has swollen past its capacity, grieving can be a flood gate that releases the feelings that accompany any loss and lets them mingle and find their place within the river of life rather than being a flash flood that drowns us.