S. Michael Wilcox and Stephen Weber are institute instructors who are finding it increasingly necessary to remind students to "be quiet."
The appeals, however, have nothing to do with discipline. They instead have everything to do with the gadgets that monopolize the students' senses while outside the classroom.
Whether it's coming from a decade-old television in the family room or from the latest "Bluetooth" headset, noise is ubiquitous in modern society. And some, like Wilcox and Weber, think that if unchecked, it can be to our spiritual detriment.
Wilcox refers to it as a "solitude famine."
"Electronics are good, and they're tools, but we're starving ourselves and our society for time to ponder and meditate," said Wilcox, a longtime instructor at the Salt Lake University Institute of Religion.
While church counsel on this subject is nothing new, it is especially applicable in today's society, where hectic lifestyles and a highly stimulated environment leave little time on the schedule for peace and quiet. Within this social context, individuals must often make a conscious effort to distance themselves
from distraction and create time for quiet reflection. Doing so, proponents say, has significant spiritual benefits.
"(People) don't realize they need solitude and how healing it can be," Wilcox said.
AS AN INSTRUCTOR at the Orem Institute of Religion and the bishop of a Brigham Young University ward, Weber has extensive interaction with young-adult members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But there are times when he will greet a student and get no response.
It's nothing personal. The student is usually just wearing headphones.
According to Weber, young people aren't used to silence. In fact, he thinks it makes them nervous.
"They have a hard time with it, especially when they're surrounded by so much visual and tactile communication," he said.
Text messages, phone calls, e-mails, music, television and other forms of media all compete for our attention. As the list of distractions grows, time spent in quiet reflection is diminishing, according to Wilcox. Even when there is free time, it's often filled with mindless entertainment "that doesn't give people time to think," he said.
"Most of modern entertainment is noise, and noise is the problem," said Wilcox, who added that despite the proliferation of entertainment options, boredom continues to persist in society. "(People) get bored if that instant stimulation isn't there."
Cell phones and iPods aren't the only culprits, however. Preoccupation with tasks and appointments can be just as distracting as noise, and a popular story used to illustrate this point occurred long before today's technologies.
In the "Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Harold B. Lee" manual, President Lee recounts a story told by President David O. McKay about Bishop John Wells. A member of the presiding bishopric, Bishop Wells had a son who was killed in a railroad accident. The boy later appeared to his "inconsolable" mother, reassured her and asked her to tell his father that "all is well."
"He said that as soon as he realized that he was in another environment, he tried to see his father, but he could not reach him," President Lee said. "His father was so busy with the duties in the office that he could not respond to his call."
Wilcox feels it's not a matter of individuals not desiring peace and quiet; it's just that other pursuits tend to accumulate. Michael Gardner, a program specialist for LDS Family Services, agrees, saying people just get "caught up" in everyday activities.
Gardner says it is incumbent upon the individual to find a balance between "competing worlds" one that allows for proper management of emotions, of which self-reflection is a key component.
"That's difficult to do in a highly stimulated environment," Gardner said. "(But) if you don't have some quiet downtime, you can't stop and feel what you're really experiencing."
Solitude is another form of "self-care that we've kind of started to neglect," he said.
Gardner suggests individuals often use noise to tune out their emotions, rather than regulating them properly by taking the time to quietly reflect and ask, "What's going on inside me?" Emotional and social problems can result.
"Then they just miss it," he said. "And it builds and builds until it manifests itself, usually in negative ways."
WILCOX DOESN'T OWN a cell phone, and he's pretty sure it wouldn't do much to enhance spiritual communication.
"I don't think the spirit is going to have a shouting match with the cell phone," he said.
That's why educators in the church like Wilcox and Weber say they caution students against filling their lives with constant noise and excess distractions, which interfere with an individual's spiritual receptivity. Quiet, they say, helps facilitate revelation.
"The spirit rarely shouts," Wilcox said. "We have to invite it."
For Jack Christianson, it's a matter of "being still."
Christianson, the former director of the Orem Institute of Religion, references Doctrine and Covenants 101:16, which reads "be still and know that I am God," when discussing the gospel principle behind quiet reflection.
"If you clutter your mind ... how is it possible to receive revelation?" he said.
LDS Church leaders often use the term "meditation," which President McKay called "the language of the soul."
Just last month, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reported in its "U.S. Religious Landscape Survey" that more than half the Mormons surveyed reported that they meditate weekly. However, prophets have often counseled that members don't spend enough time in quiet reflection. President McKay said that "we don't take sufficient time to meditate," and President Gordon B. Hinckley, at a regional conference in 1996, said, "I dare say that most of those in this room today have not taken an hour in the last year to just sit down quietly, each man to himself, as a son of God, reflecting upon his place in this world, upon his destiny, upon his capacity to do good, upon his mission to make some changes for good."
President McKay called meditation "one of the most secret, most sacred doors through which we pass into the presence of the Lord."
Wilcox, who reads extensively about world philosophies and faiths, is familiar with different forms of meditation. But in his experience, the most effective method is to remove distractions and concentrate.
"There should be something there to focus on," he said.
Proper meditation, according to Gardner, is a combination of clearing the mind and focusing. It requires the individual to be emotionally aware and in tune with what his or her needs are. Prayer, he said, is a form of meditation.
Whatever the method, though, there's not much room for distraction.
"The shift has to be from the external to more of an internal focus," he said.
Gardner realizes that many individuals feel they don't have time to spend in meditation and solitude. But he cautions that it's worth prioritizing, because once you "run out of steam," the likelihood of anxiety and depression increases.
"If you don't make the time, then you really burn out at one end or the other," he said.
Weber has tried to adopt the mind-set that in spite of his many obligations, there is always room for that which is most important. As a bishop who attends numerous ward functions, he's constantly asked how he's doing. There's one word he tries to avoid "busy."
"I never want to be a 'busy' bishop," he said.
IN ADDITION TO his professional and ecclesiastical duties, Weber has an adventurous side. He skydives, captains yachts and rides a motorcycle.
But some of his fondest memories are the quietest ones.
For two years during the summer months, Weber served as a full-time missionary in Nauvoo, Ill., working for 12 hours a day as a carpenter on the Nauvoo Temple project.
"One of the great joys of those two summers was the amount of quiet," he said.
Weber doesn't have the luxury of full-time missionary service anymore, but he still tries to maintain as much quiet in his life as possible. Often, that's just a matter of turning off electronics.
In today's society, achieving solitude often requires effort and prioritization.
According to Gardner, there are certain steps even busy individuals can take to assure time for self-reflection. They include turning off phones or having calls held for 30 minutes a day, closing the office door on occasion, reading and spending time in nature.
Like Weber, Christianson tries to create quiet where he can. He often leaves the car stereo off, and he finds hobbies like golf, skiing and hunting to be "cleansing."
No matter the chosen outlet, Gardner says it's essential to be "mindful" that is, thinking about the "world we work and operate in every day." It's a process that involves stopping, looking and appreciating, he says. That's an objective that can be accomplished whether taking a hike, touring the Temple Square gardens or just walking down a city street.
Wilcox is a believer in "getting away from things," and he tries to take a walk alone every day, either on campus at the University of Utah or around his home. He's also a proponent of getting out into nature, which he calls an "invitation to ponder." If that's the intent, however, it's best to leave cell phones, boats and ATVs at home, he suggests.
"The trouble with our interaction with nature anymore is that we bring our machines into it," Wilcox said.
He also advocates reading anything "positive" and "edifying." Unlike television and movies, reading affords the individual the opportunity to stop and think which is in harmony with the ideals of solitude and personal reflection.
"When you read, you are quiet," he said. "You need quiet to read, at least to do anything seriously.... You're quiet, and it allows the spirit to put thoughts in your mind, just talk to you."
Wilcox also cautions against postponing important activities, such as prayer and scripture reading, until the end of the day, when other pursuits have worn down the mind.
"Sometimes we're giving the Lord the least-effective time of our day," he said.
For Christianson, the morning hours are the ideal time for meditation and personal reflection. Ever since he returned home from his full-time LDS mission, Christianson has spent at least one hour per day studying the scriptures. He wakes up at 5 a.m. each day to assure that he has time to be alone, reflect and study. And it's not because he minds going without sleep.
"It's a brutal sacrifice for me," he said. "(But) all the hectic stuff doesn't bug me because I've leveled out my spirit."
According to Gardner, there is a "spiritual component" to finding inner peace. Once we tap into that, we can be renewed, he says. Spending time in quiet reflection is a key element in that process."It replenishes people and gives them the sustenance to go on."
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