The Sound of Introspection

black and white girl

This morning I woke up with a full brain. It was that way when I went to bed last night so I set my alarm early to get up and run it off. I hear a lot of people say that they love running because it helps them sort through their thoughts. I don’t think I understand those people. Running is how I get my brain to empty. It’s one of few respites I’ve found from the chaos of being a human. It’s just quiet. Especially in the mornings.

Last week my therapist told me to take two weeks off from introspection. To stop evaluating and analyzing every thought or feeling because it was taking me to a cliff and leaving me there. I’m not sure how to do this so I’ve just done a lot of reading. I’m reading Gilead by Marilynne Robinson and it is full of lovely words and that helps. I take a line or a sentence that I find particularly beautiful and let it tumble around in my mind for a while, swelling like foam to the edges of my skull, swallowing the tiny, malignant prisms of thought that take over like a fungus. It’s engulfing. And it’s quiet.

“What is pertinent is the calmness of beauty, its sense of restraint. It is as though the land knows of its own beauty, its own greatness, and feels no need to shout it.” Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day

This morning it was cold. I left the house at 6:30 and the sky was still dark and my eyes burned against the wind. It was a hard run. My legs felt heavy and my hair kept slipping out of my ponytail holder until I finally just gave up and ran with it down. My headband kept it out of my face but it whipped and whirled and stuck to my neck from the sweat. And then at about mile three, with my hair down and likely looking ridiculous, my face red and my nose running, I was suddenly thinking about nothing. Not what I was going to wear to work or whether or not I could afford to buy coffee or the speech I’m giving at a wedding this weekend. Just nothing. Just quiet.

The other thing my therapist told me about this week is something called “emotional flooding.” This is apparently the name for what happens when you (I) just totally shut down.   It’s when everything around you slows to a stop or starts to get blurry or spins and spins and spins and spins. Because you’re just too overwhelmed by whatever it is that triggered you, be it pain or confusion or anger or fear. It’s almost like going into shock. Your brain tries to stop the thinking and feeling so it floods. And suddenly its just you there, alone. Submerged and suspended lifelessly in thick, briny water. I go there often. It’s startling and strange. But it’s quiet.

There is a place for introspection. It is good, necessary even. We are called to be awake, to be aware. God created us to be human and to feel human emotions. It’s good to recognize them, to examine them, to understand them. But I wonder if the point of it all – the point of pressing in and listening to our thoughts and feelings – is just to be quieted again.

Introspection is good and necessary. Examining our hearts, digging our hands into the dirt of human brokenness is good and necessary. But only if it leads to the turning of our hearts and the lifting of dirt-covered hands to the one who quiets our souls (lest it take you to a cliff and leave you there).

God call us to “be still and know” (Psalm 46:10).  And I think maybe that’s the point of introspection – its metronome and its bookends.

We have to fight for quiet. In cold morning runs or velvety literature or the “calmness of beauty, its sense of restraint.” And only in that place, where we are still and we know, are we safe, right even, to examine the thoughts and feelings and chaos of being a human.  Because only through the lens of God and his goodness can we see our own thoughts and feelings clearly. Only in light of his mercy can we see our wickedness. Only in light of his wisdom can we hope for clarity amidst confusion. Only in light of his sovereignty can we find rest.

In Lamentations 3:40, Jeremiah writes, “let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to our Lord.” And then as the disciples take the first communion Paul writes, “let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (1 Corinthians 11:28). We examine ourselves and then return to him. We examine ourselves and then remember the body and blood of Christ. We examine ourselves and then sit, in the quiet, to be still and know.

And in that stillness, in that knowledge, the thoughts and feelings and chaos that overwhelm suddenly disappear, and we are emotionally, spiritually, wholly flooded by the wonder of his rich mercy and grace.  The world around you slows to a stop or starts to get blurry or spins and spins and spins and spins because the grace of God is just that overwhelming. And it’s just you there, alone. Having examined your heart, your thoughts and feelings and the movements of your soul, aware of your wickedness and the confusion and chaos, yet submerged and suspended in the ocean of his grace.

Let’s go there often. Let’s remember his goodness and let it swell like foam to the edges of our skulls. It’s startling and strange. And it’s quiet.

“But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me.” Psalm 131:2 

“The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing” Zephaniah 3:17

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