Simplify to Clarify: Making room for the quiet spaces

A few weeks ago I traveled back to my grandma’s place along Lake Huron. I debated whether or not to go—my to-do list was reaching a frightening length and it was a good two hour drive each way. In the end I decided to go, loaded up my dog, Stockie, and hit the road.

A few hours later, I was here: 

The very definition of tranquility.

The following Monday I was here:

Stuck in traffic on the 401, filled with murderous road rage, a million little things racing through my head, catching glimpses of billboards as I half-listened to terrible DJ banter on the radio.

It was a jarring juxtaposition. It reminded me how difficult it is to clear your head or focus in the midst of such noise and chaos.

I took an editing course a few months back where the importance of short sentences was drilled into my head. The instructor described how sentence lengths have changed over time.

For example, when Chaucer wrote Canterbury Tales, way back in the 1300s, his average sentence length was 80 words.  A few hundred years later, during Shakespeare’s time, that number had dropped to around 40 words. By 2000 most sentences averaged around 20 words. I’m sure it’s even fewer today.

At first, the idea of an 80-word sentence seemed ludicrous to me. But then I remembered back to the philosophy courses I took in University. Good lord. Those were painful texts to read. The sentences dragged on for what seemed to be pages at a time.

The reason given for the decline in sentence lengths is because our attention spans have gotten shorter. And the reason our attention spans are so much shorter isn’t because we’re dummies. It relates to the explosion of distractions we now have in our lives that simply didn’t exist in Chaucer’s time.

Longer sentences require more attention and focus on our part. Try reading Locke or Hobbes on a bus. We are bombarded with distractions.

Smart phones are constantly vibrating or belting out Lady Gaga ring tones all around us. Advertisements cover every surface of our lives. TV shows and movies are no longer restricted to the living room as we stream them to our iPads and Playbooks. While working I have Facebook, YouTube and Hotmail all up at once. There’s no such thing as extended blocks of work time as meetings and interruptions slice and dice the day.

And we’re busier too.  At work. At home. Our lives can get crammed with non-stop activity, leaving very little room for quiet times of meditation, reflection and contemplation.

My sunset kayak trip in Lake Huron was a good reminder or the value of slowing down and clearing your head. I think these times open us up to inspiration, wisdom and moments of clarity. They calm us down and allow us to step back for a moment and reflect on life.

I used to go fishing as a kid in a gully behind our house. The more you stomped and splashed around in the creek, the muddier the water would get. Only when you stopped and stood still would the mud settle and water clear. I think it’s the same with the quiet moments in life.

Escape to a cottage for a weekend. Go for evening walks by yourself. Meditate before you go to bed. Or simply say “no” to an invitation to a party so you can stay home and relax. Carve out quiet time now and again and don’t feel bad about it.

What are your favourite quiet spaces and moments?

Note: The average number of words per sentence in this post is 12.5. Suck on that, Chaucer!


Funny stories. Good advice. Josh Martin is the author of the book “Simple(ton) Living: Lessons in balance from life’s absurd moments.” Click here to learn more and to purchase a copy.

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3 Responses to Simplify to Clarify: Making room for the quiet spaces

  1. SEEVE says:

    GREAT post. Your kayak trip looks absolutely lovely. My favorite quiet places are in my living room, with my window open on a sunny evening with my dog curled up next to me. My favorite quiet moments are usually at the bus stop or even on the bus, believe it or not. Neither compare to being in nature, but those a few examples from my day-to-day. 🙂

  2. Pingback: Hay Bale to the Head: A lesson in work-life balance | Josh Martin Ink

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