In praise of waking when wakefulness stirs you because you do not own an alarm clock and if you did, would not know where to find it. In praise of grinding coffee or brewing tea or hydrating with water, if that’s your preference, of eating breakfast when you feel hungry and not before.
In praise of meditating for a spell before beginning the work of a day. In praise of running a hot bath and listening to radio essays while bathing and starting laundry and sweeping the floor. In praise of On Being and Fresh Air and Bill Moyers. In praise of morning.
Around eleven, I fetch our weekly CSA delivery. Before unloading the fresh-picked vegetables, I pull out the few leftovers from last week’s delivery, dice them, toss them with salt and olive oil, and set them roasting. On the way to the compost bin, I am waylaid by gardening. Crocosmia shoots overtake late-season rhubarb, and under enormous rhubarb leaves, sprays of lavender bow toward the sun, a posture common for sun-loving plants in this Oregon Coast holler. I set aside the compost and fetch a knife. After harvesting the rhubarb, I tie up crocosmia and nudge the lavender westerly. “Work”, as in employment, can wait.
I live a quiet life so I have time to do these things. To prepare organic food and grow a bit myself, to be side-tracked by gardening when the need arises, or a friend’s unannounced visit, the urge to read a book.
We who live quietly have become an invisible counter-culture. We don’t tweet or use smart phones, sometimes not even cell phones; we don’t have television; we don’t blog frequently or sample often from the smorgasbord of the web. We avoid the noise of incessant connection and activity. And even these small acts of quietude have become resistance in the digital age. We are harder to sell to, harder to influence. Yet resistance is not the reason we choose quiet. The quiet life is chosen because it feels more alive to us, less distracted, more healthful on personal and global levels.
Lest you think quiet a luxury, I can tell you that I am not wealthy (not on a local scale, at least). My spouse and I share a simple 720-square-foot home and run-down cars and bicycles. Of the people I know who choose a quiet life, none are wealthy, come to think of it. So bunk to the theory of luxury. In the choice between busyness and quiet, we choose the latter not because we are either well-off or ascetic, but because we want to live fully.
I average four hours a day of work, my husband about seven. Since I work largely from home, I do more work domestic. When we feel too busy, we turn down jobs. We may not be wealthy, but with our quiet life, we are rich. My husband takes time each week for soccer: once to play in a league, once to lead a soccer club for local kids, mostly immigrants—a weekly pleasure that I help coordinate. I find time for intellectual pursuits, to absorb nature, to create objects of art. He finds time for friends and play and walking on the beach. We serve as volunteers on occasion, but we also relax and have fun and get plenty of sleep.
My husband and I are self-employed and empty-nested. We would perhaps have less free time were it otherwise. Earlier seasons of life were certainly more boisterous, even before the advance of the internet. Yet we both lived simply and did not amass debt. Even with our present-day circumstances, however, we know our lives could look different. We could fill them with gadgetry, more constant communication, more consumption and materialism, more entertainment and activity, more expansive professional ambitions, more work, larger investment accounts, niftier stuff. If we tuned in to media more frequently, we could fjord a stream of voices telling us we need these things. These things, the very keys to our happiness.
The quiet life is not without limitations, of course. But isn’t embracing limitation the heart of contentment?
True, living a quiet life will not get you everything you want. It is unlikely to get you an Oprah interview, for example, or a book deal with a publisher of notable size. It is unlikely to win you the big promotions. The quiet life will not garner copious community-service awards or run up the “Likes” on your Facebook page. You will not be described as influential, or leading, or the voice of a generation.
The quiet life will not earn you a hefty retirement income or buffer you against the insecurities of old age (unless perhaps you live in Finland). In the U.S., the quiet life may eventually land you in a modest, state-subsidized nursing home. Hopefully the mental and spiritual benefits of a life lived quietly will let you see this glass as half full.
Living the quiet life will not guarantee you a spotless home or tidy car, and if young children share your quiet life, they may at times look unkempt. You will not be asked by the local Home and Garden Club to feature your home on a fundraising tour, and you are unlikely to epitomize modern fashion.
Yet how many of these limits will matter on the cusp of your death?
The quiet life is about listening and attending to your existence and to that of the universe and spirit around you. It is about stilling the noise enough that you can hear. What you hear will depend on your singular vocation, your calling.
At times, quiet may lead you into seasons of increased activity and engagement. These seasons will be well nourished by the quiet. Your life will mimic the natural world, which cycles through abundance and fallowness, drama and repose, migration and homecoming. Roots nurtured in stillness and quiet will be strong to abide your seasons of action.
Therefore, I sing the praise of a quiet life, a simple life, a life fully and justly lived.