Dead air time
(Time, how to deal with it)
We might not advert to it every day but our experience of time and extended time – that is duration - does influence us.
In the monastery, we might have too much time on our hands. Or try to escape the boredom of long stretches of time.
Or the classic case of the Atlas monk Br Luc who persevered by promising himself each day that he would
crash the joint the next day.—Dom Gerard
When I was a young boy growing up I always found Sunday afternoon’s difficult. When I was in the Navy, it was the same lived out experience; every Sunday. It felt like dead-air, which is not a very pleasant experience to go through….or is it/was it, a non-experience? Time was felt as if it was standing still, it almost had a straightjacket feel to it. I did not want to do anything, read anything, watch the TV, eat, or even sleep…..dead-air. I guess that was my introduction to the noon-day-devil. This still happens, though now it may be more often than on a Sunday afternoon.
In Monasteries, which are busy places, are still set up where there is more time for reflection and prayer. The challenge is how to deal with that. To become restless (which only makes it worse) is one way that I can, and have, dealt with this common human experience. The rule of St. Benedict deals with this aspect of human life and a cause for many monks to slow down their progress or to even lose their way on their monastic journey.
Sleep is one escape, but in the end, it just makes matters worse. Over the years I have had some success in dealing with this, and yes, perhaps more failures. Slowly, very slowly, I have learned that the only way to deal with this phenomena is to sit my butt down, breathe, read slowly doing Lectio, if I can, and wait on the Lord. It sounds pious I know, but it is not when experiencing it. Yet, it works, if patience, endurance, and faith are present. To mindlessly run around only makes the restless feeling worse and I can say that it can be an almost hell-like experience, devoid of meaning, color, or emotions of any kind. Yes, dead-air.
It is not that I have too much time on my hands, like on a Sunday afternoon, it is that learning the reality that doing nothing, in order to do the one thing necessary, is something very important and takes attention and perseverance. Waiting on the Lord is hard work and it is understandable for many do struggle with this reality in Monasteries and not only in Cloistered communities but probably in the lives of just about everyone. When home, after work, how is that time spent? When simply waiting at the doctor’s office, or at the airport, what do we do with those often long, dragged out moments? Do we seek to feed our souls, or do we sit, bored and impatient? Do we just hit our heads against a wall?
Many types of activities can actually be meaningless, devoid of any real value…dead air is just that, dead. Is it so awful to just be present to oneself for a certain amount of time every day? To focus on one’s relationship with the Infinite, to take root in the eternal and to seek to grow in self-awareness? It is easy to fill up one’s life with ‘important’ things to do, so as to not have to deal with the interior reality of one’ life, or the needs of the soul.
For me, I would say the answer is ‘yes’. However, to go through that experience of being in a dry place, devoid of water, being bored, can be navigated by simply stopping and not being afraid. The living waters are there, I just need to take root. When this happens, when I can sit with it, or pray slowly, or do Lectio, even in the midst of this dryness, I find that the straightjacket loosens, I can breathe and I find myself ‘home’, although I may not fully understand what is happening. Grace is happening, the Infinite becomes present to me, or I become aware of what was always there.
I can bounce around, but that makes it hard to sit still, impossible actually, and I may never be able to experience the living waters that reside within me, because God is one with me in love, and love is about relationship, about being present, in the rough times as well as the pleasant. When I refuse to take root in the moment and become restless, I make a choice not to confront the reality of why I am here. I have a feeling that frantic activity is not the reason, but an escape.
All religious traditions have devotions that can be done every day. For instance, for me to sit and to slowly say the rosary is not only a time filler, but prayer as well. It is the intent that is important and this allows the flow of time to continue, if slowly. However, there have been times when I have sat and said my beads at a slow pace, and when I stop, I am surprised that I have stepped out of dead air into something vibrant, alive, and filled with joy, for when the living waters break forth, there is true refreshment. Even if nothing happens, to sit in the moment before the Infinite is never a waste of time, in fact quite the opposite.