On Wanting and Silence and Stillness

"Not all men are called to be hermits, but all men need enough silence and solitude in their lives to enable the deep inner voice of their own true self to be heard."
Thomas Merton


I've kept my phone on Do Not Disturb mode for over a month now. It means that if anyone calls me or sends me a message, my phone doesn't light up, doesn't buzz, doesn't let me know. And it's amazing. I have way less interruptions, the tiny invasions from other people and the distractions I inflict on myself. Suddenly, I have way more free time and free space in my brain to work and create. It might be one of the best decisions I've made in a long time.

And yet, I still catch myself reaching out for my phone at times. I sometimes stop myself mid-reach and say, "What are you doing, man?" It's like Mom stopped me halfway to the cookie jar.

As beneficial and healthy as it's been to pull back from my phone, I notice I still want to check it. That wanting is something I've been thinking about for over a month.

In the wake of some gut-wrenching decisions in August, I had to figure out what to do with a wave of fresh pain, confusion, and questions. In the midst of that, I noticed that especially when I'm in pain, I have an acute awareness of wanting.

Last month, I noticed I wanted to check my phone more often than usual.

I wanted music to be on or Netflix to be playing at all times.

I wanted to fill my schedule to the brim with no free spaces.

I wanted to talk about anything other than what was bothering me.

I wanted to go and do. I wanted to move and never stop.

I wanted noise and movement.

I wanted all of that because I wanted to avoid silence and stillness.

The craziest thing? I don't want to avoid the silence because it's too quiet, or the stillness because there's nothing there. The silence has a voice. It speaks, but I don't want to have the conversation. The stillness has activity. It wants to engage me, but I don't want to face it. 

Here's something I've learned in the last month: the wanting is something we wire ourselves to do even when we're not hurting. Pain just happens to increase the urgency of our wanting. 

You know that chemical in your brain, dopamine? Most people think it's what's responsible for the way we feel pleasure. Kent Berridge, who does research in neuroscience, suggests dopamine is more involved in making us want. Our dopamine system fuels our desire, our seeking, and it's what creates habitual wanting. Addiction is formed this way.

Dopamine is what helps me carve my grooves, why I want to reach for my phone, why my thumb wants to press the Home button, why I want to see what's in that tiny glass screen.

The science explains the hardwiring of my habits.

I think there's more to my wanting.

When I check my phone, I want something, for sure. I want to see a text message, I want to see a notification, I want to see a post, I want to see a photo, I want to see an email—and I'm hoping somebody's got something for me that's going to make me feel okay about myself or my circumstances.

I'm hoping something in that stupid little brick is going to give me peace.

This past month has been my journey of finally forcing myself to face what I've known all along:

Nothing in my phone—Instagram, Twitter, a text message—is going to bring me peace.  

I'm not going to distract myself to peace.

I'm not going to work and hustle my way to peace.

I'm not going to max out my schedule or muffle the silence or outmaneuver the stillness and find peace.

Every day, I'm convinced more and more of my need for intentional silence and stillness.

It's not possible to heal and grow and thrive the way our minds, bodies, and spirits require unless we have silence and stillness in our lives.

I've spent so much of my life wiring my wanting to avoid silence and stillness.

Here's where I start to unplug those faulty connections. Here's where I start to dig new pathways and grooves.

Here's to something quieter, something slower, something with more space.

Here's to peace.