I have not been myself lately. I go from telling my kids to QUIET DOWN to begging them to SPEAK UP. My neck’s been stiff for a week, I’m even more absent-minded than usual and my ability to tolerate unexpected disturbances has sucked. This weekend, one of my kids asked me, “Why are you acting so weird lately?” and I had to stop and really think about it.
Why have I been acting so weird lately?
Like many of you, I imagine, I’ve had a serious case of energetic whiplash. We’re absolutely fried as a nation, thanks to years of fever-pitched “breaking news,” bitter political battles, a president who all-cap tweets at all hours, and now very real crises fraying our nerves and impacting our lives — from civil unrest to a global pandemic. For a good long while, I did pretty well managing all the emotional turmoil of these times, but lately the collective vibration has taken its toll. The frenetic energy around election results, the grief over rising COVID-19 deaths, and the divided opinions on how to handle it all has a lot of us feeling overwhelmed and shaken up.
How could we not be weary? How are we supposed to stay centered?
Well, for one thing, it won’t hurt anything or anyone to back away from the dumpster fire for a little while and give ourselves the chance to regroup. Yesterday, I opened up the digital guide I released this past spring, The Human Sparkler Thrive Guide: Spirited Strategies for Braving This Shitstorm, and literally took my own advice. I was reminded of all the tools I have at my fingertips to return to myself, to get back to center.
One of the sections in the guide is simply called Be Quiet and starts with the story of my hubby Brad — a loud, expressive, creative extrovert — who’s learned and practiced how to create much-needed quiet, to listen more fully, and to give himself the space he needs to rejuvenate. When he feels off-kilter, he notices it so much more quickly these days and knows how to re-set his system.
Some of that started a couple of years ago, after he attended some leadership workshops led by a troupe of comedians from Second City in Chicago. He told me about a social experiment in which every attendee was paired up with another person to have a focused conversation. One person spoke at a time, while the other listened. But when the Second City folks told them to switch, the other person had to pick up the conversation using the last word their partner had used. Brad said it resulted in some really funny exchanges, but also an eye-opening experience. He said they all realized they were proactively letting the other person talk, purposefully not interrupting them, and listening intently to everything their partner said. “I needed to hear my partner’s last word,” he told me, “so I could quickly take the baton and build the conversation versus take it in my own direction.”
It was a great wake-up call for him on how little most of us actually listen. In a conversation, most of us are thinking about what our response will be, before the other person even finishes his or her sentence. “We’re talking at each other,” he said, “instead of with each other.” Boy, we’ve all witnessed that with politicians and media panels lately, right? But we’re probably all doing it in our own lives, too.
One of the things we’ve been conditioned to avoid, at least in Western culture, is “awkward silence.” We jump to fill the silent gap in a conversation, usually with meaningless small talk or an offer we don’t actually want to make, because of our fear of the vulnerability and intimacy that sitting in the quiet sometimes allows for. What would happen if we weren’t so quick to avoid an intimate moment, to give ourselves a chance to actually think about what we want to say? Could that “dead air” actually help us feel more alive?
Soon after attending those workshops, Brad happened to get laid off from his job and decided to put what he’d learned to the test beyond the office — at home, at networking coffees, and in interviews with prospective employers. One day, he returned from a lunch meeting feeling so thrilled that he’d put his phone away for the entire meal, and had fully focused on the person across the table from him. It was a modern age revelation: if he didn’t allow his phone to distract him, he could fully focus on listening and engaging.
To this day, he continues to be much more present than he used to be. He has found that mastering the art of listening and finding ways to quiet his mind at home — even just sitting on our front stoop to watch the world go by — has changed how he engages with others and keeps himself feeling more at peace. I’ve noticed him taking those breaks more lately, just soaking up some sunshine, stopping to converse with a neighbor or playing catch with the kids. He’s consciously separating himself from all the noise in our midst and reconnecting with what matters. Doesn’t mean he never gets flustered or frustrated, but that he’s able to move through those moments with greater ease when he creates quiet space, intentionally listens and gives himself a chance to re-set.
2020 has been wildly chaotic, but it also keeps extending invitations to us to rest, to listen closer, to take exquisite care of ourselves and each other. With fewer social gatherings and many people still working from home, there’s a tendency to want to fill that space — the awkward silence — with group Zoom calls, TV show marathons, trolling and scrolling through social media, and checking our devices regularly for panic-triggering headlines. We’re becoming more addicted to noise, drama, and pointing fingers at the expense of quiet self-reflection, meaningful connection and compromise.
But everything going on around us doesn’t have to alter everything within us.
We have less than eight full weeks left of 2020. What if we gave ourselves a chance to find some redeeming value in this crazy year? What if we all commit to using these final weeks to lean into the quiet, to see what we hear when we really listen to each other and our inner voices, to look for ways we can grow through the chaos? Here are three ways I’m going to do this today:
I’m going to watch the rain. With storms in the forecast, I intend to take a few minutes to simply watch the raindrops fall, study the beads of water on my window and the puddles forming on the ground, listen to the rain and wind, and just be present for it.
I’m going to listen to my kids. If they have a story or a question while I’m doing something else, I’m going to stop what I’m doing so I can hear them fully and respond with all of me.
I’m setting boundaries. For me, quitting all of my news and social media consumption feels too drastic (though more power to you if that’s your plan), but there is no reason for me to check in on headlines or scroll through my feeds lots of times each day. This is a work in progress for me, but I know the less time I spend tuning in there means more time tuning in here.
So how about you? What can you do today to quiet your mind and reclaim your personal energy?
If you need some gentle direction, resources, stories and angel-guided mantras, you may enjoy The Human Sparkler Thrive Guide: Spirited Strategies for Braving This Shitstorm. Heck, it helped me this weekend! I wrote this 97-page downloadable guide when COVID-19 first hit, but now might be the perfect time to give yourself a break and find what’s waiting for you in the quiet.