While I Eat
It is entirely possible (if inadvisable) for me to eat a meal while careening down the freeway at 65 miles per hour and simultaneously catching up with my college roommate over the phone. (For the record, the only time I have ever done this, we were actually in the car together—she was driving and I was eating.) But it’s symptomatic, I think, of our addiction to multi-tasking that it doesn’t sound at all bizarre to suggest I’ll accomplish something “while I eat” or “while I drive to work.” When did it stop being enough just to eat? Or just to drive?
The reason I’m noticing these things is that I gave myself the gift (curse? no, gift) of a week of media cleanse. AKA my “Week of Quiet.” I still got on the computer as needed to do my work, but I tried to avoid any other inputs—no scrolling through New York Times headlines between students, no podcasts, no NPR in the car, no social media or television watching and, hardest of all, no reading books.
A radical decrease in the amount of information I am force-feeding myself. Even the books. Maybe especially the books.
My mother tells a story: when I was little, the teachers at school would encourage parents to get their kids to read as much as possible. “There’s no such thing as too much reading!” they cheered. My mother disagreed and would cut me off from my total immersion in Nancy Drew or the Chronicles of Narnia and force me to go for a walk with her, or water the trees in the yard, or fold the laundry. I think she saw what I now also see—reading is a powerful medicine, and like all powerful medicines, it must be used thoughtfully.
A phenomenon I observed again as I put down the five books I was reading simultaneously before I started this week of quiet. (Fortunately for me, I didn’t have to put down all the books. No, the children and I finished Lucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar. I highly recommend it.) It was a little like the experience of beginning to get sleep after months (or years) of sleep deprivation. At first it feels terrible, disorienting, like standing without crutches for the first time (that’s a Lucky Broken Girl reference). But over the course of some days, I noticed a quieting in my nervous system. A clearing of fog in my brain.
I ate lunch quietly today. My favorite lunch is a bowl of leftover homemade soup, a piece of bread and a book to eat, I mean read. But today, no book. Just quietly ate. Not a bad way to refresh between morning and afternoon. As of tomorrow, my Week of Quiet will be over and while it’s not really soup season, I can add back the book. I have a plan to read When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams. But the other four books can wait. No need to gorge myself.
That’s what I’ve taken away from the week of quiet. That quiet is a dreadfully scarce essential nutrient. I can get by without it, sort of, but I cannot thrive. And sometimes the best thing to do "while I eat" is ... eat.
Maybe you could use some quiet too? May I recommend partaking in a minute, or an hour, or a week of quiet? I would love to hear what you notice!