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White space...to be dreaded or appreciated?

For the season of Lent, I’ve given up entertainment. Partly to curb my internet surfing habits, where every cute video or vaguely curious link deserves more of my time than any serious pursuits, like writing, talking to real live people, exercising, or contemplating the state of one’s soul, and partly to see if I can be a better listener, to be at peace in real silence.

The word contemplation, for me, conjures up images of quiet, sunny afternoons on perfectly arranged verandas, or vast, echoing halls of holy churches where hooded figures sing notes of gravitas.

Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Contemplation. Slips off the tongue like a secluded waterfall.

A beautiful abbey crowns one of Mission’s rolling hills, and I used to ride my motorcycle out there on hot summer days. I did this mostly because the road there was curvy and seductive for speedsters like myself, but partly to escape the daily circus that was the summer camp where I cooked for a living.

I’d park my bad-ass bike next to the Abbot’s Acura, and wander into the wooded paths that rounded the church. After about five minutes of sylvan silence and birdsong, I’d be doing one of the following: paying my Visa bill by phone, snooping in the windows of the dining hall, planning my return trip home, or wondering where to stop for dinner.

I’ve wasted a few tubs of bubble bath in my day, because once the water is drawn, the candles lit, the glass of wine close at hand, I slip down into the depths and come up, five minutes later, completely bored and on edge.

I’m not very good at this contemplation thing.

At this very moment, as I write this post, I again feel the uncomfortable emptiness of too much time on my hands. I am skittish – and slightly grumpy, because instead of spending my evening floating away on a magic carpet of well-written scripts, catchy conversation and good-looking people with Drama in their fictional, televised lives, I am doing something. Writing. Crafting. Creating.

What I’m discovering as my world gets quieter is that I desperately want to be constantly entertained. And I’m a cheap drunk when it comes to entertainment. I pick up the free newspaper from the floor of the bus, read the small print of billboards while waiting in line, do my housework while listening to a myriad of radio programs and podcasts and flick through pointless websites and supermarket flyers while talking on the phone and writing emails, all at once.

The problem with white space, and contemplation is simple. The more time I spend in quiet, the more chances I will begin to see myself and be painfully reminded of my daily bad habits, rationalizations, and wispy excuses for wasting time.

To be clear, the last thing I need is more navel gazing with its linty results. I’m thinking more of time spent honestly looking at one’s life, and letting things shoved aside by the glittering barrage of endless entertainment be seen for what they are. Seen, dealt with, and moved past.

Not easily done. But as this evening crawls by, and I face down the next 40 days armed only with time, sans senseless titillation, I am determined to look that dreaded lull in the eye. We’ll see who blinks first.