BRIAN — DAY 15: Vacation

40 Days Searching for the Sound of Silence

Photo: Jonathan Dyer, AP
Photo: Jonathan Dyer, AP
I remember reading someone say they were usually ready for their vacation just as it was ending.

I know what they mean. So often we crave a moment’s relaxation, pine for an opportunity to catch our breath amidst the hustle and bustle of modern life and wonder aloud what it would be like to occasionally have time for a midday snooze.

The irony is that when these moments come my way, I either fail to realize their arrival or simply choose not to use them as my better, wiser self hoped I would. Though it hardly makes sense to measure downtime by one’s productivity whilst using it, I do think there is an art to conscientiously seeking stillness.

Each day as I sit down for my meditation, I have thousands of thoughts running through my head, all competing for my ever-so-brief attention span. Like the vacationer who struggles to escape her work and “real life” commitments, I cannot simply turn off every question, problem or to-do list item’s petition for scrutiny. It takes time to ease into my breathing, to slow my thoughts and quiet myself into something resembling peacefulness.

By the time I am approaching that zone, my 12 or so minutes are often up.

The obvious solution would be to increase the amount of time I dedicate to prayer each day, and this is certainly a wonderful idea. Sometimes, that is exactly what I do. On others, however, it is a struggle to get in the time I already allotted, let alone any extra.

I have always hated busyness as an excuse, but let’s face it: we are an occupied society. We are so caught up in “doing” that we have convinced ourselves into thinking we can multitask. But while we may be able to eat and text at the same time, the truth is that we can only hold one thought in our head at a given moment.

I do not think the answer is necessarily to commit more time to my Lenten goal or other efforts toward mindfulness but rather to commit the rest of the time I have in a more constructive way.

As an example, I have a 15-mile commute to and from work. While I cannot close my eyes and light a candle while driving, I can use that time to be quiet, give my full focus to the task at hand and, in the process, hopefully achieve some mental clarity going into and leaving the office each day. In a sense, it is using those brief moments of respite throughout the day as practice for my designated meditation time.

This is surely not a foolproof method; there probably is no such thing. But when I explore the desire at the heart of my Lenten goal — to be more mindful — it is not something I intend to do for 10-15 minutes a day but rather all the time.