For 2024, how about living a truly quiet life?
It's not about making the right New Years resolution; it's about how you direct your attention.
Our next Sunday Candlelight Chat is on January 14, at 1 pm ET/10 am PT/6 pm UK: with special guest, the bestselling novelist Angie Kim, who writes on the relativity of happiness and how our society equates oral fluency with intelligence. We’ll discuss Angie’s writing; how she went from lawyer to author and how YOU can make a creative shift in your life; and our long-ago past as law school classmates! You’ll be able to ask questions, too. Angie’s latest award-winning mystery is HAPPINESS FALLS. You’ll enjoy our chat either way, but you might like to read the book before then.
To participate, and to receive the replay we’ll send out later, you’ll need a paid or scholarship subscription to the Quiet Life. My colleagues and I put SO MUCH daily labor (of love) into this work, and truly appreciate your support!
The Quiet Life with Susan Cain is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Dear ham-del (here’s why I call you this),
Do the words “a quiet life” make you breathe a little more slowly, a little more deeply?
Would you like a quiet (or quieter) life, this year, and all the years to come?
A life that’s oriented to the unseen, the unspoken, the eternal, and the beautiful?
I know that I would. I’ve been moving in that direction for a while now - it’s one of the benefits of getting a little older. But it’s a constant process.
For me, this has meant a little (OK, a lot) less public speaking, a little more writing. It means less time scrolling social media and more time reading books. It means chasing tennis balls and talking to trees. (I almost wrote “more time with family, ” but I’ve always prioritized that one.)
But the quest for a quiet life is really about attention, and how to direct it. It’s about intellectual and emotional energy, and where to expend it.
Are you directing your attention to people you love — or to those who aggravate you? Are you starting your day reading stressful news or emails, or — as the 12th century poet, Jalal al’Din Rumi asks you here — with music and beauty?
Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
(from The Essential Rumi, translations by Coleman Barks with John Moyne, 1995.)
If you tend to start your mornings flooded by stressful thoughts, you could try printing out these lines, and keeping them near you. You could try finding your way of kissing the ground.
I have a lot of trouble with this one, myself. I often wake up feeling that there might be some disaster in my inbox that I need to attend to RIGHT AWAY, so the first thing I do is scroll my emails. From there, it’s a hop, skip and jump to social media.
I’m not one for New Years resolutions — I think we get farther focusing on joy, rather than willpower. I started exercising only when I found activities I adored (tennis, yoga); I started eating copious amounts of vegetables only when I found dishes I loved. And I started writing only when I took to working in sunny cafe windows.
So instead of a resolution, this year I’d like to suggest that we simply ask ourselves whether we’re directing our attention properly: are you letting the beauty you love be what you do?
In case you feel guilty prioritizing a quiet life in times of strife (of which Rumi himself had experienced plenty), this is not about hiding our heads in the sand.
It’s rather about recognizing that we all have our light sides and our shadow sides, and every day, many times a day, without realizing it, we make a choice of which side of our natures to nourish. And where we choose to direct our thoughts has the power to change our emotions and actions.
We know this from neuroscience, which has a fancy name for this phenomenon: “experience-dependent neuroplasticity.” That is – our daily experiences literally have the power to rewire our brains, and thus our behavior, and thus our lives, and thus our societies.
But we’ve also known this for centuries. “The things you think about determine the quality of your mind,” said Marcus Aurelius. “Your soul takes on the color of your thoughts.”
What color is your soul now?
What color do you want it to be?
I wish you a sweet sweet new year,
and am always very grateful that you’re here,
PS If you’re not using the Substack app yet, please do consider it, and please turn on notifications. This is so that you won't miss anything, AND so that I can initiate casual chats with you, without having to clutter your email inbox each time.