The Art of Tuning Out

You can learn to shut out the world.

I’m thinking of this and the way I’ve encouraged my children to practice this “skill”.  You want to read, but someone else wants to watch the television.  You want to work on homework, but someone else is talking on the phone.  You want to sleep, but someone is singing.

You learn to tune out.  You learn to focus your attention.  You learn to create a bubble within which you free yourself from distraction.

A man I know recently went to the doctor to have his hearing checked.  After the testing, the doctor said, “You don’t have a hearing problem.  You just don’t listen.”  His wife asked if she could get that in writing.

It’s not that we don’t receive the signals, the sound waves vibrate our ear drum normally, but we learn to ignore what the ear and brain are receiving.  Fill in the blank with all our other senses, as well.

I suppose this is a defense mechanism, perhaps a survival technique.  There are so many sights and sounds competing for our attention, we have developed the ability to filter some of it out.  This stimuli continues to bombard us, but we are only vaguely aware of most of it.  The world whirs along and we navigate through it, picking and choosing what we pay attention to.

You can learn to shut out the world.

I’m finding you can also learn to shut out God.

The nudges.  The promptings. The still, small voice and the rushing wind.  We can block these from our perception as well as the blaring radio, the crying baby, and the barking dog.  We can decide not to see injustice and poverty and suffering.  We can live in the midst of the grieving and the broken and not pay any attention.  We can work and play and do our own thing without allowing the broken and abused and hurting to enter into our awareness.

As true as this is for my outward life, it is equally true for my inner spirituality.

My prayer life can be hollow.  I can acknowledge God’s existence, but avoid spending time in God’s presence.  I can say the words and go through the motions, but they are empty of power or purpose.  I can hear, but not listen.

So I’m starting to wonder if the real trick isn’t to ignore the “distractions”, but to eliminate them?  Maybe trying to read with the television on isn’t the best plan?  Though I may think I’m completely focused, can I really be?

Maybe we do need to retreat, to remove ourselves from the distractions, to be fully present?

I suspect my prayer life would be enriched by such withdrawal.  I believe I’d find it easier to hear and listen if the voices competing for my attention were reduced.  I need to stop fooling myself into thinking I can tune out the “noise”.   Jesus didn’t.  Why would I think I could?

There is a time for us to come together and for us to share our lives.  There is also a time for us to separate and reflect and recharge and rest.

I suppose living in the tension of these two pulls is what keeps things interesting.

How do you balance the two?

Life is better together,
Shawn

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