When it is quiet,
We are so quick to turn the noise back on.
When I was in high school I used to pace back and forth in my room for hours. I couldn’t focus on anything productive or relaxing, and having grown up in a strongly self-disciplined household I was too self-conscious to fall back into something as mind numbing as TV (heaven forbid I should waste my time!) I couldn’t relax. I couldn’t not relax. I just paced up and down. I ended up sitting alone in my room being bored for hours at a time, eventually frustrating myself into a panic. I knew I needed purpose in my life and wanted to spend my valuable time wisely. It was a complete realization of purposelessness in my life, and it weighed hard on me. I prayed, sometimes in tears, that God would give me purpose.
Years later, after reading Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl I found out the name of my condition: the Existential Vacuum. What a poignant expression for such a terrible emotion!
Dr. Frankl puts it this way,
“They lack awareness of a meaning worth living for. They are haunted by the experience of their inner emptiness, a void within themselves.”
“The existential vacuum manifests itself mainly in a state of boredom” and “often eventuates in sexual compensation.”
How pertinent is this for our American go-go-go culture? I think very. Most people experience the existential vacuum at some point in their lives, but how do we deal with it? Instead of facing our EV head-on, we are always finding something to distract us from it: Facebook, pornography, Youtube, television, email, alcohol. The diversions come in many flavors and the list goes on and on. We don’t want to come to grips with the black hole, so we fill up our time with distractions.
Ask people who know me if I’m inclined to be free-spirited, hippie-ish, flower-child-like, or a wholehearted embracer of Eastern Religions and they will tell you I’m quite the opposite. I would be the last person you would expect to meditate on a regular basis. So you skeptics have no excuse because this definitely works for me, so I want you to try it. I’ll even double dog dare you if I have to. It might be strange and new if you’ve never done it before, but it’s really easy and requires no bravery whatsoever. Trust me, it will be enlightening.
First find a soft and quiet place to sit. I recommend a bed, but the floor will do just fine as long as you use a pillow. Sit Indian-style (胡座) on a pillow with your legs crossed in front of you in a comfortable position with good posture (no you don’t have to do the Lotus position). Don’t slouch and don’t lay down. Put your hands somewhere comfortable, either on your knees or resting softly together in your lap. The goal is to be comfortable, but not so much that you will be tempted to fall asleep. Set a timer for 15 minutes to start (use e.ggtimer.com/15mins if you’re near a computer), and close your eyes. Keep them closed for the entire duration and DON’T PEEK!
The goal is not to go into a trance, or lucid dream, or have an encounter with the spiritual world, or anything extraordinary. The goal is to be silent and cut off the constant input and output of everyday life. Call it by name and confront your own Existential Vacuum head-on.
I’ve found that because it forces me to remove the constant flash and bang of life, not surprisingly, my meditation time yields the most innovative ideas. I’ll often do it at the start of the day, or when I’m feeling tired or stressed out. It has an almost immediate regenerative effect and I’m usually able to regain another hour or more of focused creative time.
A Deeper Meaning?
For those of us who are Christians, God says something truly amazing in Psalm 46:
“Be still, and know that I am God.”
In the verse before that we find the context of His statement,
“He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.”
When our lives are in turmoil and we are literally or figuratively at war, God tells us to be still. I hope you realize the weight of this statement because God is saying that in the silence, in the quiet, in the Existential Vacuum – of all places, He is. Despite your inner ennui, He is. Despite whatever evil seems to be taking over this world, He is still who He says He is. Thank God! because I would go crazy without him.