Remember that commercial, “This is your brain on drugs”, the one where an egg was cracked into a sizzling frying pan?
Yesterday, I wrote of the way that I can fill my head with learning – processing and integrating thoughts and ideas- curiously searching for wisdom beneath the events of the day, be they personal, political, or global. It’s a place into which I can easily retreat in order to ease my discomfort. This morning, however, I woke thinking that the wisest thing I could do right now is to get out of my head somehow, because ‘THIS is my brain on information’.
It’s been a long stretch here since coming back from my time away in Canada, the richness of a summer where I was largely disconnected from technology, spending my days in the moment, in the flesh of my body, in contact with the earth and with the person’s with whom I share it. There, I was out of touch with the political and social climate, while deeply in touch with the physical one. Was I in anyway lacking?
Looking back at my reentry, I see how difficult the transition was crossing that threshold back into this world, how disconnected I’d truly felt. Almost immediately thereafter came my husband’s surgery, which required my moving inside for weeks in my commitment to care for him during his recovery. I saw that as a buffer zone to diving right back into overstimulation, of sorts.. except I forgot to close the gate. In the confines of my home, separated from relationships that might have perhaps truly been welcoming, social media rushed into the void. At the time, I saw this as an opportunity to catch up on what I had missed during my time away, to be the ‘good’ citizen. Soon enough, I was swept into that chaotic world.
I realize there is something in web technology that hooks a curious brain like mine. So addictive is the one-more story, like popping one more pill, each one-more looking enticing, many of them really worthwhile, even meaningful, so that too soon my head is completely spinning in them. The overload, like binging rather than nourishing the body (even if what one is taking in is healthy), consumes me.
In many ways, it’s really no different than the overwhelming choices of any other kind we have in our lives today (Christmas shopping, anyone?). We’re so bombarded with choices, spinning our tires in them, that it’s hard to break free without crashing.
I recently heard that a study on happiness revealed that the optimal number of choices for a person to feel content is something like 6. Too fewer than that and he feels a lack of freedom of expression. More than that and she feels overwhelmed, even debilitated, so that no matter what choice she makes she will feel the potential of having missed out and making the wrong one. Limitless opportunity and limitless resources do not satisfy this craving in us. I remembered today that one of the things I like about the simplicity of canoe camping, for instance, is that each day my choices are limited. I have one set of clothes to change into, the next meal that I eat is the one on top of the food barrel, and everything that I need I must be able to carry on my shoulders.
And so today, I woke thinking I need to fast.
Oh, but soon enough I started rationalizing my way out of that, too, because after all there are some really meaningful things that I receive (and, hopefully give?) in this technological world! There are faraway friends whose stories of their children make me smile. There are persons I have met far and wide whose photographs fill my heart with the beauty of the earth and the beauty of humanity. There are stories about men traveling in space for a year, who when asked what they missed on earth said, ‘little birch trees’. There are meaningful poems and inspirational essays brought right to my fingertips, which I would never find on my library shelves. There are videos of canoe trips that fill my heart with remembrance and joy. There are persons making meaning out of their life’s stories.
One of those persons this morning must’ve awakened with a similar noticing. On his page , he wrote this
- (Dictionary) Ponder: To consider something deeply and thoroughly; to meditate over or upon; to weigh carefully in the mind; consider thoughtfully.
- (Me) Ponder: A skill that I have slowly bartered away for constant access to and immediate digestion of information in this age of “constant connectivity
One of this person’s friends noted that she was feeling the same way, writing “Quantity vs quality. Too much info to wade through. I want to be informed, but it’s more info than the human brain was designed to process. Definitely feeling the need to pull back and go inward”. Later, she admitted that for her there was also a bit of FOMO (fear of missing out) – not wanting to potentially miss something that she might find especially meaningful.
Well now, had I not logged in there this morning, I’d have missed that bit of resonance!! LOL, along with Parker Palmer’s equally resonant. “As various forms of madness swirl around me—and sometimes catch me up in the swirl—I need to be intentional about seeking sources of inner peace”.
Aha, I am not alone. Another draw to the addiction, perhaps.
And so I decided to sort instead. Yes, that might do it. A diet rather than a fast. Even as I do when I am preparing for a camping trip, pulling out of the pile what is extraneous, I gathered only what felt particularly meaningful and/or necessary, rather than throwing the whole lot into the trash. I weaned the sites that I visit rather than deal with the cold-turkey withdrawal of a screaming brain.
I guess it’s not a whole lot different than the old days of addictively collecting books (bah, what do I mean the old days, two came in the mail today!) thinking just one more might have the answers I seek, yearning for resonance in them too. But it feels different somehow. I could walk away more easily from them. So often they went unread, unless the reading was required of me for a course or an upcoming program or retreat.
Which brings me to structure. This afternoon while visiting with a real, flesh-and-blood friend, we talked about books we have read. I noted how being in a class where the list of required reading was given by another, where I willingly gave the authority to another to make the choices for me, was freeing to me in a way. Those parameters helped me to feel that it was enough.
Earlier in the day I had read an article about meaningful work and the 4 S’s it provides for us as humans. Social connection, Stimulation, Story (part of something bigger), and Structure. The article struck me as holding some vital truth for me. You see, I have a lot of unstructured space in my life (pity me, what a 1st world problem is that!). I suspect that part of what I seek to do in all of this taking in of information is to fill that void of meaningful purpose in my life. In the virtual world some of those S’s are met, however thinly and artificially, but the parameters of structure are missing.
The writing life, something I occasionally aspire to imagining I am engaging, is similar in its looseness of structure (with the added lack of social connection) and constantly I wonder whether I am contributing any meaningful chapters to the greater story of which I am somehow a part. When I came home from Canada, one of the first posts that I shared in this space , about my struggle to reenter this world of overmuch, was greeted by a comment that felt scolding, something to the effect that ‘while nature doesn’t really need you, people do. Gather yourself to do good where you can’.
I felt the recrimination in that perhaps because it hit home in the place within me that fears? believes? knows? she is purposelessly drifting, the place that feels self-indulgent at best, worthless at worst, that wonders what meaning/what contribution her life here is offering. And so I engaged, reading and writing, learning and sharing deeply of myself, both in this blogosphere and in that other sphere that is the virtual social network.
But does every ‘profound’ realization that I have, every meaningful story I read, need to be shared? Is there not some arrogance in that too? What purpose do all of these words serve to the greater good in a world already so inundated with them, so much so that I, lover of words that I am, feel the need to cut myself off from them?
Perhaps one day I will do it, cut myself off from this place, return to the quiet earth and its simpler gifts, to a humbler life of not needing to be a part of anything bigger or more meaningful at all, not needing to be seen or known by any other than the beings with whom I share this space, trusting that I am enough.