I’m sitting in a room that’s so quiet, I can hear my sparkling water fizz gently from where it sits on the side table. I didn’t intentionally choose such a quiet space to write about being quiet, but I do enjoy it when the Universe gives these little nods of affirmation as though to say, I see you, dear one. You’re doing a great job.
I can also hear the cardinals arriving at my birdfeeder. Which is quiet but highly distracting as I’d much rather watch them (unproductive) than do anything else (productive) this cool, damp morning. Did you know male cardinals will present carefully selected seeds to their mates? I’ve watched this time and again and wondered whether this is part of a courtship ritual or part of keeping the love alive after the deed is done. Both possibilities amuse me greatly.
Lest you think everything is restful and zen, I’m also watching a soft, orange cat (feral, I think? I only just began to notice it. This spring we have two orange tabbies skulking around, this one is the most skittish.) as it lays in the driveway across the street. Mo, the fearless, is curled next to me, resting his cheek on his beloved ball. However, the moment he sees the cat every bit of peace and calm will be shattered as he sounds the alarm for our block that we are being invaded. So vigilant is he that I have to spell K-I-T-T-Y if I dare to speak of it. When he hears the word kitty spoken, he launches into a volley of barks and growls as he races upstairs and down, with hackles raised to the fullest, to peer out all of the windows until he finds the offending creature.
None of this is what I came here to consider today, but I suppose it does all belong to a conversation about volume. If you didn’t know, I’ve been a reader at meals for as long as I can remember, so much so that at some point in my early years my mother forbade me bringing a book to the family dinner table (I think she had to discourage my dad as well, who used whatever food was handy as a book weight for his beloved books until he discovered actual leather book weights, two of which I still own. Using them is another form of delight, the weight of my father’s memory and gentle and familiar as the weights themselves). While no one would consider reading at meals anything but a quiet activity, it isn’t necessarily internally peaceful. Depending on what I am reading my mind fills with emotion, information, or inspiration by turns, ideas often jostling together, bumping off of each other, and careening around the inside of my head for hours afterward.
However for the last three days, I haven’t brought a book (or a device, or anything except my food and a cloth napkin – another delight) to breakfast. I don’t even turn on the instrumental woo-woo music that I’m drawn to during quiet moments. I simply sit, with my food, and familiarize myself with the sensation of settling.
If you’ve ever kicked your feet in a pool or a lake for a while and suddenly stopped, you know that for a time the water still churns, then it ripples, then it slowly undulates and finally, finally it stills, and if you’re very lucky, you can see all the beautiful beings living beneath the surface (this is less exciting if you are in a pool where things aren’t supposed to be living. which I suppose is the very reason people prefer pools. I am not who prefers the chemical smell of chlorine and sterility in my swimming experience, but I know I am in the minority here)
This is what sitting with breakfast is like. For a bit my thoughts and internal monologue bump and tumble along just as they always do, which I allow without judgment, while I also try not to follow them down their endless rabbit trails. Then after a time, everything slows as I consider the texture of an avocado or scrambled egg, the salt and umami of caramelized fat around the edge of a steak, the tingle of champagne and the sweetness of orange juice on the tongue (delight, delight, delight – it’s been a weekend of fancy breakfasts here). Eventually everything is still.
For the last three days, these have been some of my finest moments.
We live in a culture which venerates accessible information and ceaseless productivity. While I think both have their proper place, to elevate them above their actual value is to raise their volume to a deafening level. We become like my sweet dog, braying needlessly at every possible window, on full alert for dangers which turn out to be kittens, or perhaps nothing at all. Like everyone else, I often find myself near the mental breaking point of needing to just do something productive so I can prove my worth.
Three quiet breakfasts aren’t enough to unwrite the theology of productivity and staying well-informed. As with any addictive behavior, these are psychological transcripts which will take time to overwrite with healthier, more balanced narratives of living in and relating to the world. But they are a beginning, a pause in the relentless soundtrack: consume and produce, consume and produce. They move against the flow of mindless activity which so often carries us along, and what’s more they are a free and unlimited form of delight, even without the mimosa.