The bathroom door in my childhood home had a Native American lady carrying her son bundled on her back. It was right there on the back of the door. If I had been raised Catholic I’m sure it would have been the Virgin Mary. Some days it almost became a dragon’s face.
This is when I say “back in my day…” You see, back in my day, when you needed to spend a few minutes in the bathroom you didn’t have a tiny computer to take with you. So you sat there quietly and pondered life just as God intended. If you were going to be a while, my dad had a collection of Reader’s Digest magazines and maybe a word find or two. But for a kid with an imagination, the wood grain on the back of the door provided plenty of amusement.
There was a lot of wood grain in the house. The cabinets, the table, the hardwood floors all brimmed with fine wood grain. Yet none of that grain became a mother and child. The wood grain on the bathroom door was able to morph into imagery only because I was still.
We’ve lost the ability to be still in modern life. Obviously the smart phone is to blame for eternally occupying our brains and our eyes. Saying this helps shift the blame away from us. Yet in the back of our minds, just behind the news feed we’re scrolling through, we know that the phone is just a tool. The tool is not to blame because the tool is not in charge. The truth is, we’ve lost the desire to be still.
All you need for proof is to go to the bathroom. Before your cheeks feel the cool of the seat you’ve got your phone in your hand. While you do whatever you went there to do, your thumb is scrolling nonstop. Email, Facebook, Instagram and if it’s really serious you may even have time for Twitter. Even if you just checked it.
Ever go to the bathroom and reach for your pocket and feel the horrible dread of it being phone-less? What an eternity. Time stretches on and seconds drag on like months. You sit there, completely helpless, wondering what you’re missing in the world of digital communication. Did someone else like your photo? What if someone is texting you? What if you’re not the first one to leave a clever comment under someone’s post?
A few feet in front of you there’s a skull emerging out of a camel’s body. There’s a moose with an oversized and asymmetrical set of antlers. There’s a monster truck with what looks like a poodle driving it. But you’ll never see it because you don’t want to see it. Because you don’t create the opportunity to see it.
Or you may be less visual than me. Maybe you’re a thinker of thoughts. Maybe you have a novel in you. Maybe you’re hearing the notes of your next song. Except you can’t because you wont create the opportunity to be still.
I’m not sure if life moved slower before technology. I’m not sure if humans had less worry in their day-to-day lives. I do know they had more time to think about it. Perhaps that extra time and the ability to be still gave them more time to think creatively about their problems. Maybe it allowed them to develop plans and to think of all their possibilities and arrive at the best solutions. Maybe that explains why everyone seems to have more anxiety today.
Each semester my studio is filled with students who are nearly paralyzed with anxiety. They have so much to do and they have no time to do it. And yet, every single one will have a well-maintained list of social media apps on their phones. Many are maintaining them during my class. But brainstorming and sketching ideas? Ain’t nobody got time for that.
I’m picking on students but I’m guilty as well. We all are. I may have picked up my phone twice while typing this. But I can’t help but wonder what our world would look like if we were to be still. Would we be as impatient? Would we be as anxious? Would we be more creative?
What if we made a conscious effort to find out? What if we created opportunity to be still?