input – noun | in·put | \ˈin-ˌpu̇t\
: advice or opinions that help someone make a decision
: information that is put into a computer
: something (such as power or energy) that is put into a machine or system
I knew I needed a vacation long before we loaded our suitcases in the van and headed to the airport early two Saturdays ago. I didn’t need the tight schedule and extra workload the week before to remind me that time away from work is the only way to truly sustain productivity. And even if I hadn’t had a chance to lie on the beach and dig my toes in the sand while the cool breeze blew atop the wavy Pacific Ocean, I knew I needed to get away.
The problem was, I didn’t realize what I need to get away from.
When I first started packing, I had a small stack of books plus my Kindle waiting to stash in a carry-on bag. But when I realized how heavy the carry-on would be even with adding only three paperbacks and when I remembered how many actual books are downloaded on the Kindle, I put the rest on the shelf and made sure the Kindle was fully charged. Plus, our family was taking so many electronic devices I knew we would be thoroughly entertained during the six hours of air travel.
On the first flight, I opened my Kindle and read about two paragraphs of a book I had downloaded for free. But when the story failed to capture my attention, I closed it up and played Angry Birds for the rest of the flight. Throughout the week, we watched Property Brothers and the Disney channel when we were in the hotel since our stripped down cable service at home no longer offers those networks. I occasionally flipped through Facebook on my iPhone. And one afternoon we spent an hour and a half listening to Minion mumbo-jumbo on the big screen. But no amount of effort could move me toward any serious reading–or even watching or listening.
Even after we arrived home Thursday evening with three full days until we had to go back to work, I tried picking up a book. I wanted to get online and read blog posts and articles. And Steve and I did manage to have a few engaging conversations, but mostly we just laid on the couch binge-watching my new Netflix crush, Royals Pains.
Somewhere around Friday afternoon I realized what this vacation was about. I needed a break from input. You might think that as a freelancer all I do is write all day–output. It seems logical. But actually, I spend most of my days reading, especially when I have a lot of editing clients. Of the ten to twelve hours a day that I work, I spend about eight of them reading. I read dozens of articles each day about the healthcare industry. I read at least a dozen reflections and essays a week in my copyediting work for The High Calling. I read hundreds of Facebook posts and Tweets to connect with other writers and readers. I digest articles from The Atlantic, the New York Times, Fast Company, Brain Pickings. I drop in to read a handful of blog posts each week and open up countless emails. Sometimes when I walk, I listen to podcasts. And I stream at least a few videos each week, usually while researching for an essay or newsletter article.
During vacation, except for light television watching or minimal Facebook browsing, I shut down the input machine and gave my mind what it need the most: quiet.
And the effects were extraordinary.
My mind had time to rest, and eventually, it began to wander (and wonder) again. I worked through some of the doubts and frustrations I had been experiencing in my work. I prayed simply and began to understand the source of some of my spiritual malaise. I recognized the toll that controversy and hatred and sensationalism has taken on my soul. And when our new pastor preached about prayer on Sunday, I realized that all the input swirling in my head had kept me from hearing from God as clearly as I needed to.
Coincidentally, one of the books that never made it into the carry-on is my new copy of This Day: Collected and New Sabbath Poems by Wendell Berry. This past Sunday, fittingly, my mind did turn toward reading for a few minutes, just a few pages of the introduction. And I found this waiting, a benediction for my week of beach walking and relaxed eating and couch lying: “That one is sometimes able, among the disturbances of the present world, to wander into some good and beautiful whereabouts of the woods, grow quiet, and come to rest is a gift, a wonder, and a kind of grace.”
I’m ready to begin my daily downloads again. I’ll hear the opinions and conclusions and speculations of many day after day after day. But amid all the input, I’ll remember the breeze on my face and the feeling of the towel between my back and the sand, and I’ll take a few minutes to breathe quietly, too.
What’s YOUR word of the week? Drop it into the comments section, or share it on this week’s Facebook post. If you post about your word on your blog, please slip the link into a comment below so I can stop by and join you.
Definitions of my word of the week are from Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online.