Saturday, November 2, 2019

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, November 2, 2019 - Thank You for No Signal

When I switch back and forth on my television from cable to another media device I have to press a button on the remote control which says “source.“ It switches the view of what I’m watching on the screen from the signal coming from the cable box, for instance, to a signal from the DVD player.

But if the DVD player isn’t turned on when I switch it, the screen will display nothing but the words, “No Signal.“ Meaning, I’m in the right place, but there’s nothing to see here. 

Sometimes my brain is so busy that I can hardly get a word in edgewise. Things I’m worried about, things I’m happy about, things I know I have to get to, and things I’m glad I’m finished. It’s like watching a news cycle on six different media outlets all at the same time. 

Nearly every time I see the words “No Signal“ on the television screen I take a deep breath and say, “Thank you.” Sometimes I can then go several seconds without letting anything enter my mind. Eventually, it all creeps back, of course. But do I feel better about the subjects of my rumination after a bit of non-thinking than I did a few seconds before? Actually, I do.

How much time in our lives do we give ourselves to unplug? To cut the signal? Do we ever? 

I have a dear friend who appears to cherish the hyper-busyness of her mind. She claims to be powerless over it and so her coping skill is to just accept it, even brag about it a little. But I wonder if she isn’t merely tolerating it rather than truly accepting it. Being resigned to something isn’t the same as being allowing of it. It certainly isn’t the same thing as surfing it. 

After a meeting recently, I took her to a path in the woods nearby for a quiet, 15-minute session of a Japanese meditation technique called shinrin yoku which translates to “forest bathing.” It’s a simple quieting of the mind about everything except the aspects of the forest itself. The forest becomes a proxy higher power for a short time, allowing for a brief respite from input. It won’t change us overnight. But it gets a foot in the door. Keep at it. 

What harm can it do to shut off our various technologies for a little bit? I don’t like the idea that my electronic devices can determine the amount of dopamine and serotonin my brain produces. But that’s exactly what’s happening. It’s no better than being addicted to any other substance. 

As a Gen X-er, I remember the time before Internet, before voicemail, and cell phones, even pagers. We didn’t expect immediate answers to everything. We didn’t require constant stimulation in this way. I don’t think humanity has biologically changed in that regard, even if it has become accustomed to the hyper-speed of life in this Information Age. It’s the difference between wanting something and truly needing it. We may want this hyper-speed and constant input, or have been convinced to believe we want it, but that doesn’t mean we need it. Remember that it’s mostly the media and media devices which tell us how much we need them. Perhaps we should consider the source.

What is your source? Where are you getting your information and how is it making you feel? Your source can be your own personal history and the ghosts of your memory just as easily as some outside media device. What informs your happiness, or lack of it? What informs your self-identity? 

This is often why people who subscribe to a belief in a higher power tend to live longer. Because that higher power is, or becomes, one of their primary sources. That particular signal input has intrinsic value in that It connects us with something larger than ourselves. 

It doesn’t have to be a deity. This is not about advocating a belief in the traditional view of God. This is about allowing for the ‘signal/no signal’ of a purer source to be a major stakeholder in our daily lives. That higher power can be many things so long as it is comforting to you, empowering, and instills a sense of purpose and worth. Your smart phone definitely does not qualify. 

But a hiking club might. A social justice group might. A church might. Anything which expands upon your enrichment and inner peace qualifies as an appropriate higher power. If there is a God, It doesn’t care what you choose, so long as it be toward peace. 

Too much input prevents us from being able to discern the most appropriate sources for ourselves. There’s too much digital chatter telling us what to believe, how to feel, whom to vote for. We either feel desperate to know or desperate to avoid knowing. Neither option brings us peace. Change your input to ‘no signal’ once in a while and just listen. You might be surprised to find the deepest parts of you are all too eager for you to hear them. Give them a chance.

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