Hope all the Americans had a great Fourth of July holiday filled with bbqs, family & friends and fireworks. (For the rest of the world, hope you had a happy Wednesday!) My day included all the above and also my cute 7-month-old niece.
Like a lot of other babies her age, she is consummately curious, social and wants to engage with everything that’s going on around her all the time. On the flip side, it’s incredibly difficult to get her to sleep even when she’s clearly exhausted and cranky and could benefit from a little rest. She’ll be rubbing her eyes and yawning but she will absolutely revolt if you try to put her down for a nap. I’ve seen the same situation play out with my friends’ babies as well. Inevitably, the conversation will go like this:
“She doesn’t want to miss out on anything.”
“Yeah, too bad she doesn’t realize that there’s nothing to miss out on.”
“If only she knew how lucky she was.”
[to the baby] “Sleep now, while you still can!”
It’s that last one that got me wondering: how much has changed since then, really? We still run around until we’re ready to drop, and even then, decide that we absolutely must not miss out on anything and sit glued to our TV/laptop/phone/tablet so that we can stay connected at all times. How many of you wake up and immediately check email, the news and/or [insert social media of choice]?
When was the last time you “slept”?
I don’t mean literally, though if you’re like most people you’re probably not getting enough of that either. When was the last time you were truly disconnected, even for a few minutes, from all your devices and everything going on outside of you?
I’m the first to admit that having the world at your fingertips is pretty damn awesome. It’s great to be able to Google whatever you’re looking for with a phone or download research articles from the library without leaving your house. It’s great to keep in touch with family and friends who live across the world. But I do notice that the easy access to 24/7 connection creates this itch to find out what’s happening, well, 24/7. There’s even a cell phone commercial that plays on this need to know RIGHT NOW by showing how one cell carrier’s network is so much faster than the other, and pity the poor fool who finds out something only to be told that it’s “SO forty seconds ago.”
But does it really matter if we find out, as it is happening, that Katie Holmes is divorcing Tom Cruise? Does it really matter that your Facebook friend posted a funny cat photo and you weren’t the first to respond? Can that e-mail really not wait ten minutes? What are we so afraid of missing out on?
If we’re constantly reacting to other people’s creations, that means we’re not spending that time coming up with our own. How can we know what our thoughts are if we’re not giving our minds even a few minutes a day of uninterrupted silence? Do you know what you’re really thinking, outside of that first response to other people’s status updates or news items?
Filtering Out the Noise
Full confession: I don’t meditate regularly. I have in the past, and I know what great benefits it has, but for some reason it always falls by the wayside. Name your excuse, I’ve used them all. Here’s some common ones and why they’re not valid.
- Excuse #1 Aren’t you supposed to “empty” your mind? Can’t do that, I’m always thinking about something. It’s kind of unfortunate that people think you need to be able to concentrate on nothing the entire time you’re meditating because the only people, to my knowledge, who can actually do this have either been meditating for years or are inherently blessed (or, I suppose, don’t think about much). The truth is you meditate precisely because you can’t quiet your mind. The ancient yogis even had a name for it – “monkey mind” – because it jumps from thought to thought, grabbing at this branch and that, like a monkey. It’s human nature. You’re not any more flawed than the rest of us. Just acknowledge each thought as it comes up and tell it that you’ll get to that later. No judgements. You can’t be better or worse than anyone else at meditation, the point is just to be present in the moment, whether it means acknowledging that you’re worried about something or tired or stressed or grateful or happy or hyper or none of the above.
- Excuse #2 No, seriously, I can’t sit still and think of nothing. Then go outside. Go for a walk in the neighborhood (but turn off your phone first). Go for a jog – without your headphones. Turn off the TV and phones and internet and radio and sit at a table with a blank notebook and jot down your thoughts. If you don’t have thoughts you want to write down, then doodle. Or scribble. Do a headstand. It doesn’t matter what.
- Excuse #2 I don’t have the time. If you’ve watched any TV at all today, or spent any time on Facebook, Twitter or the like, yes, you do have the time. You don’t need an hour, five minutes is fine.
- Excuse #3 No, but I really don’t have the time. I don’t even own a TV. You’re telling me that there is not a single, five minute stretch of the day when you’re not doing something that isn’t absolutely necessary? I don’t believe you. How about three minutes? One minute?
- Excuse #4 No, you’re wrong, everything I have to do is more important than sitting alone for five minutes twiddling my thumbs. Really? Do those activities decrease the effects of stress, anxiety and fear? Do they boost your immune system? Do they increase your focus for everything else you have to do the rest of the day?
- Excuse #5 Well, I missed yesterday (and the day before, and the one before that), and I won’t have time tomorrow (see Excuses #2-4) so why bother? You know all those great benefits above? You can get them after one session. So that means, even if you’ve never done it before and never do it again, the day you do will still benefit you. Besides, how do you know today is not the day when you’ll come up with some great idea or story that you never would have otherwise thought of?
Hey I know it’s not the easiest thing to do. But starting today I’m challenging myself to spending at least five minutes, and hopefully more, completely disconnected to the outside world and completely connected to myself and the present. I’m not going to call it ‘meditating’ per se, but it’s the same idea. The point is to be alone with yourself and find out what you’re really all about. Who knows? This might be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.