Multiplying conversations

Imagine if every tweet, every social media post, text message, email, came to you in the form of someone speaking directly into your ear. Even as you scroll through a newsfeed or your emails, everything you half look at, spoken out loud into your ear. It might sound something like this:

This YouTube recording comes with a warning and an invitation. The warning is that it’s a recording of ten whole hours of people talking. The fact the creators felt the need to warn us should tell us something about the impact of listening (or even half listening) to that much conversation! The invitation is for people to listen to it all the way through and post in the comments when they’re done. Judging by the 2.6K comments, some must have managed it.

I think the amount of communication we are exposed to in an average day is really quite like listening to this. No wonder I sometimes (who am I kidding – often) feel overwhelmed with the sheer volume of talking. Even though in the past year of global pandemic I guess a lot of people have missed the babble of being in a crowd. (One comment on the YouTube recording poignantly asks, “Who’s here during quarantine trying to remember what people are?”)

Yesterday we had one of our monthly Quiet Days. It’s the first time we have been able to invite people to come round since the pandemic hit last year. The Great British weather was predictably throwing it down by mid morning, so it was great to be able to be inside the house, albeit with the windows wide open for ventilation to reduce the risk of Covid-contagion.

It’s no wonder I increasingly find these set aside times for being quiet so essential. I normally turn off my phone or put it on aeroplane mode for the day. At a couple of points during the day for quite a while the building work next door stopped. Listening to the birds and the rain was glorious. And going outside and being in it, doing some careful weeding to give some impossibly blue flowers space to breathe, touching the earth and smelling the wet grass was so good.

Freeing up my attention to notice and enjoy all these things was such a necessary thing. As is often the case, turning my attention completely away from my phone, and any form of communication other than with myself, with the earth, with other living creatures, with the divine, was a joy.

Yesterday I also enjoyed doing this in a shared physical space. We have had Quiet Days in the past year where we connect with people for short video calls a few times through the day which were OK. But there is a particular gift we offer one another by physically being in each other’s presence but not speaking to each other or expecting anyone to speak or to listen to us. It’s a rare social environment where we agree to offer one another the gift of silence. We are considerate of one another in how we inhabit the space, but the consideration is silent.

We broke the silence for lunch together which was also a delight. And at the end of our time people could share whatever had come to them in the silence if they wanted to. There were just three of us this time. A lot of people say they want to make time for this sort of day, but it seems really difficult practically for people to do it, for a whole host of good reasons.

But I am thinking this sort of time (maybe not a whole day for everyone) is only going to become more necessary, given the extreme demands on our attention…?

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