Life is complex. Life is fluid. Life is dynamic. The diversity of life’s experience manifests from the conscious, subconscious, and unconscious ways we relate to the world around us. If you think about it honestly, you’ll be able to identify different thoughts, feelings, or behaviors that are driven by your values and beliefs (conscious) and you’ll also find some that almost feel outside of your control (subconscious and unconscious). Our souls are like icebergs, most of us is under the surface and hidden from our view. We have to take intentional steps to look below the surface.
Now, before I jump into my experience, I wanted to share one more thing that I feel relates to this conversation. We have a tendency to think in binaries (thanks to Star Wars, sports rivalries, and the Americanized Christian culture, to name a few). We easily default to a view of the world that sees ‘good’ versus ‘bad,’ ‘winner’ versus ‘loser,’ and ‘sacred’ versus ‘secular.’ We perpetuate these binaries because they provide safety in a confusing and sometimes threatening world, but life is too complex to hold onto these binaries beyond their usefulness.
In my experience, we tend to view detoxing or similar experiences through a binary, through the lens of ‘success’ versus ‘failure.’ If we are able to be honest with ourselves and God, we often are driven by the thoughts, “Have I been good enough?” or “I just need to read my Bible better, attend church more, and fast successfully.” Notice the language used in these questions – it’s all “I language.” Pursuing spiritual disciplines or Christian practices with the motivation of ‘me being better’ or ‘me being successful’ puts the power of our transformation solely in our efforts.
Because of the danger of over relying on these binaries, I am consciously avoiding terms like ‘success’ and ‘failure’ as it relates to my experience because they often turn into barriers to actual growth and connection to God. As I talk about my experience detoxing noise from my life, it would be easy to villainize noise as the ‘bad,’ silence as the ‘good.’ Relying on that binary would allow me to avoid the complexity behind my experience.
As you read about my detox and move towards your own, I would hope you can begin to identify some of the ways you may be living your Christian life through a lens dictated by binaries and identify the things you may be missing because of this. May your detox not bring the illusion of ‘success,’ but rather, may it allow you to hold your breath a little longer as you start to dive down to explore your soul below the surface of the iceberg.
I wake up to an alarm. I hear the clicking from the taps on my iPhone. I can hear the not-so-muffled conversations of my neighbors below me. I turn the radio on in my car to catch up on the news. I get to work and have conversations with colleagues, and I play music at my desk to help me “focus.” I get home from work and put on the latest Netflix show. Lastly, while I wait to go to bed, I recap other people’s days on Instagram.
If your days sound anything like mine, you are also constantly surrounded by noise. But not all noise is bad. Music, theatre, conversations, and other sounds can bring real beauty and depth to a moment or experience. When a baby is born, the first thing we listen for is a cry – the sound of life at its beginning. We all live for that moment when our favorite song comes on at a wedding, and we dance with the people we love in celebration of love. Despite the fact that sounds often play an important role in our most sacred memories, our over-reliance on noise has opened the door for all noise to be misinterpreted as beauty. In my experience, noise can quickly turn from something life-giving to something that allows us to numb and avoid what is really going on inside of us.
It might sound funny to hear someone say they are trying to avoid noise. As someone who hates the sound of chewing, I knew avoiding all noise would be impossible, but what I was seeking to do was to detox from the noise I intentionally brought into my life to distract and numb myself. I wanted sound to become a red light – a warning sign that I was choosing not to sit with myself and stay present to myself and others.
Here were my ground rules or hopes for the detox:
1. Avoid using my phone before 10am and after 8pm.
I have noticed how dependent I am on my phone to help wake myself up. An alarm doesn’t seem to cut it anymore; require the blue light from my screen to help my brain wake up. As someone who loves being independent, this realization has been scary.
2. I would not listen to music, podcasts, or news in my car.
I am a learner, thoughts are constantly tumbling around in my mind, and podcasts or news can be a way for me to avoid my feelings by reducing the world to thoughts. Staying “up to date” can be an easy way to blur the line between noble citizenship and self-righteousness, at least for
3. Lastly, I was going to choose breathing exercises, centering/grounding practices, or balancing drills before turning to noise.
During my detox, I would find myself scrolling through my phone. I would find myself opening apps without even thinking. I noticed myself turning the radio on even though I was not wanting to listen to anything. I caught myself turning the TV on to have background noise. It would often take me 5-10 seconds to even realize I was distracting myself in these ways. The difficult thing was that even after recognizing I was distracting myself, I would rarely turn the noise off.
While reflecting on my time, my intentions were noble, but time and time again, I found myself not wanting to put in the effort to stay present with myself and others. I see the ways my hopes to be present were actually a desire to be cured. If I am honest with myself, I often want to be fixed, instead of risking the intimacy of being connected. I learned that I thought if I could control the noise around me, like some emotionless robot, I could be worthy of writing this article, of other people staying present with me. This has been a scary realization that has peeled back another layer on my views of self-worth and identity.
For many reasons (growing up in sports, being raised in an evangelical Christian home, being a learner, etc.) I have the tendency to believe that knowledge is the answer. If I know the ‘right’ thing, I will be a ‘good’ follower of Jesus. Back to the binaries. This detox abruptly reminded me that knowledge of something is only a portion of the journey, and that the real work happens when we risk to show up to God, ourselves, and others. This detox of noise was a window into the parts of my soul that do not want to acknowledge all the places I try to be God. I would much rather live in the insulated world of thoughts and beliefs instead of stepping towards the journey that Jesus invites us on. A journey towards love, justice, grace, openness, intimacy, oneness, and presence.
I wish I could share more of my reflections with you, but honestly, that’s only because I want to seem complete. I want to seem put together. In honor of life’s journey, I won’t wrap my reflections up in a bow. Instead, I will end with a prayer/blessing for me and you. When my mind wants to spiritually succeed, but I do not want to risk showing up, would I be reminded of Larry Warner’s words, “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly.” My life is not something to cure. My life is something to grow, ground, and expand. Jesus’ call is to step towards all creation in love. May I move towards this dance. May I move towards the complexity of life and not away from it. May I find places to hold my breath a little longer to risk diving for a view below the surface of the iceberg.
Jon is a trained Spiritual Director from the Institute for Spiritual Formation at Talbot Seminary. While he was completing his Master's degree he also worked at Vanguard University overseeing the student recreation programs and coached at a local CrossFit gym. Although these three roles may seem very different, they greatly impacted the way Jon approaches wellness. He views well-being through a wholistic lens that sees the interrelated natures of spiritual, physical, emotional, and relational wellness. Jon is a fan of sports (particularly San Francisco based teams), camping, coffee, and reading.