At a recent PLA lunch with alumna Sarah Bastian, she and I talked extensively about the value of quiet and silence. Specifically, we talked about how college students are constantly inundated with noise throughout the day. And when I talk about noise, I don’t just mean literal noise and sound, though I am someone who constantly has his earbuds in and listens to music between every single class. I also think of the term more generally as all the thoughts/events/stimuli we get exposed to that take up space in our brains. When we scroll through our Facebook feeds, that’s noise entering our brains. When we read through the front page of the New York Times, that’s noise entering our brains. When our friends complain to us about their roommate drama, that’s also noise. While none of these sources of noise are inherently bad, it can become dangerous when we are so flooded with outside stimuli that we forget to listen to ourselves and our internal voice.
Because of all noise that I experience in my daily life, I feel like I can lack clarity in thinking about what really matters. It’s harder to make judicious decisions about your life and your future when you are listening to a podcast while checking your email while riding the White Loop. The actual cognition that is required to make real decisions and ask big questions requires both time and clarity. Throughout my undergraduate career, but especially this year, I’ve felt like my brain is running on junk food. Having my days inundated with minutiae that doesn’t really matter gets in the way of more important things, like thinking about the future, building friendships, and improving myself.
Rather than keep consuming junk food of noise and stimulus, I think the antidote to this will be quiet for me. As someone who is naturally high energy and has a tendency to get distracted, working on quieting my mind and focusing my thoughts is a lot like eating my vegetables – I don’t really want to do it, but I know it will be incredibly helpful in the long run. So the question remains to me is: how can I build more quiet into my life? By this, I don’t mean how can I spend more time alone and away from others, but rather, how can I find time to let my mind rest and listen to myself? What will my internal voice tell me when I give it the chance to speak? One obvious choice that I’ve been considering is meditation, and incorporating a daily practice into my routine. I haven’t devoted myself enough to this yet to reap the benefits. During my sophomore year, I took a yoga course for the spring semester and I found it incredibly helpful to have a structured time for relaxation and meditation. So the somewhat paradoxical task that I’m trying to accomplish is structuring time for my mind to be quiet and unstructured. While I have not yet found the quiet I seek, I am hopeful that I will and that listening inwards will provide much guidance for me.