All mankind’s troubles are caused by one single thing,
which is their inability to sit quietly in a room.
When I leave on vacation later in August, I am leaving my smart phone at home.
There should probably be some version of methadone for those who stop doodling with their phones cold turkey; I am sure I will go into some form of withdrawal. Nevertheless, I am leaving the phone behind precisely because I know it keeps me unnaturally “busy.” If I am sitting in a waiting room I immediately pull out my phone and start rummaging through stale emails. I remember the day I took my phone in for repairs. The guy at the counter said it would be twenty minutes. I walked out and sat on a sidewalk bench, then went to whip out my phone. I more or less didn’t know what to do with myself. Just sit there?
I am like millions. We’re all incredibly “busy.” Why? Timothy Wilson, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia, did a study to try and find out why.“No one had done a simple study letting people go off on their own and think,” said Wilson. The results surprised him.
More than 700 people participated in 11 experiments, and the majority reported a sense of unease and discomfort if left in a room alone for just six to fifteen minutes.
It gets more interesting. In one experiment, 15 percent of women and 64 percent of men began giving themselves electrical shocks when left alone in a room simply to think. These self-jolters had previously said they would pay money to avoid getting the painful shock. But when it came down to that moment—just me and my thoughts—they couldn’t take it. Better to be distracted, even if it’s a little bit of suffering, self-inflicted.
This isn’t really a “modern” problem (see Pascal, above). For centuries, people seeking to know God and themselves have known that being alone, being still, being quiet is the key. That “being still” in the Presence is what they called prayer. It wasn’t a list of things they needed the Almighty to do; it was simply sitting quietly in the Presence. What they found was that, sure enough, all their little personal gremlins came out and started yammering and banging pots and pans. It was enough to want to give yourself a jolt just to escape it all. But, they discovered, when they stayed just a moment longer things got quiet and calm and peaceful.