This past week has been a great time. First, we have 8 children and there is nothing in this world that can compete with children and Christmas. From the pre-day activities to the morning joy and wonder followed by our time at Mass to the 3 days afterward when we gather with 100 or so of my wife’s family for our annual (26th consecutive) 3 day event, it has been a week filled with excitement, joy, sharing, laughter and family.
During all this hustle and bustle, I’ve learned that like the rest of the year, I need to take time to be with myself – to listen to the quiet. Sometimes it can be hard, like the past week when we’re running about getting last minute things done, preparing for a meal (which seems to be always when you have 8 children), going out to visit friends and relatives or just being at home but I have found it is essential to be able to find that time to be quiet – meditate and reestablish my own inner equilibrium.
It wasn’t always this way. In fact, I would often make excuses about why I couldn’t do such a thing – I don’t stop moving, ADHD people don’t meditate, I need “noise” around me, I think better, I write better, I….. on they went. That changed a while ago when I was searching to improve my skills as a school administrator. As I read through various books and articles about leadership, I began to notice a theme that many of the great leaders of the past – Plato, Caesar, Ghandi, Jesus, Mother Theresa, saints, presidents, … – many of them emphasized spending time in quiet. They called it different things but all had time where they would spend time with themselves, quieting their mind and listening.
I Gave it a Shot
I decided to give it a try. I tried a few times but just couldn’t do it. There was always something – I couldn’t stop the thoughts from swirling, I couldn’t sit still, I couldn’t …. Besides, in today’s fast paced world, there wasn’t any real need for it anyway. I decided, instead, to make lists of things I needed to do and then plan how to do it. That was a much better use of my time. I let the idea slide. But the seed had been planted and I began to notice that “being quiet with oneself” is a theme that runs deeply – from Star Wars through Lord of the Rings, NCIS and CSI and everything in between. We don’t always see the time it takes but it is mentioned again and again.
Do or Do Not, There is No Try
You can’t just “try” to spend time in quiet. You have to do it. It takes practice. For me, a great deal of practice. Increasing from a mere 5 minutes of just sitting to now I can spend 30 minutes “being quiet with myself.” It didn’t just happen at once nor was it easy to explain to others why it was important or what it does. But, like so many people who all of a sudden see the greater purpose of something, say like twitter or blogging or a PLN, spending time with myself has allowed me to become better at what I do – a husband, father, teacher, administrator, friend, … It is a very personal thing but, I believe, absolutely important to helping me to improve. Just like practice helps an elite athlete continue to improve through continually practicing and preparing for competition, being quiet with myself helps me prepare for my time with others. During highly stressful times when things have been very difficult, I find that this time is critical to assisting me in being able to discern what is important, what needs attention and what is the “noise” I need to allow to quiet.
We are living in times of incredible “noise”, when we are bombarded 24/7 with information and the demand and expectation to keep up and keep ahead drive people to distraction. Clay Shirky said we don’t have an information problem but a filter problem. I believe this is absolutely true. We can get information all the time – but what we need to discern is what is the question?
As a leader, it has become very important that I learn new skills – to listen, attentively; to ask questions and seek answers – even if they weren’t what I expected/wanted; see the possibilities/opportunities – in people, in situations, in risks. This requires that, in the flood of information, I take the time being with myself to allow for filtering. We can always find something else to listen to or watch but sometimes it’s not what we need. Instead, we need to take time to listen in the quiet – it’s advice that comes from the greatest leaders. Information can be overwhelming – if we allow it but if we follow the advice of the ages, we’ll spend time being quiet – with ourselves and allow the leader within to filter through the noise.