Too many distractions?

I confess. I hate pop-ups. Those annoying graphic invaders that appear every time you land on a website.

 Especially the ones that cover the whole screen, and you can’t figure out how to get them to go away without accidentally opting out of the whole site.

What I hate about them is I feel like some invisible force has decided that I should be more interested in the ad or message on the pop-up rather than the site I have sought to read. Or has decided that after 2.5 seconds, I must already be bored and now need to read something else or take advantage of some offer that will only last a few seconds so I better hurry.

Excuse me, but when did I give up control over what content I want to see?

I’m guessing this is all a result of today’s disappearing attention span syndrome.

Ten years ago, the average attention span was 12 minutes. Now it is 5 minutes. And yes, fellow boomers and beyond, younger people really do have the shortest attention span.

c9e42240Seems social media really is affecting all our brains. Our brains grow and adjust according to our experiences. And we all are getting information too quickly. Our brains are getting lazy. And we are getting anxious when we’re not being stimulated.

Thus, the pop-ups.

Many say we have created a culture of distraction. We sit in a group of friends and stare at our phones. We can’t think for long periods of a time. In fact, studies are showing that because we are now finding it so hard to just sit and let our minds settle, we are becoming worse at creative thinking.

That’s scary. Because quiet, let-your-mind-wander moments are often when our great ideas appear. Answers to questions we’ve been pondering suddenly seem clear. Concepts for paintings, melodies for songs, equations for formulas…they have to have space and air to rise to the top of our minds.

But these days, it seems no one can just “be”. Standing in line means reading an article online. Waiting for a friend to arrive means sending an email. Sitting in traffic gives us time to check the market’s performance.

Instead of letting our mind wander, we reach for a gadget.

It’s a wonder anyone gets any real serious thinking done at work. The average office worker is said to check his or her mail 30 to 40 times an hour. That’s a lot of distraction.   And of course we don’t unhook from our electronic addictions at lunch, or even after work, or, God forbid, on vacation—it’s a constant attack on our weary brains.

I know some people who can’t sit through a movie unless it’s less than two hours or it’s on television so they can be checking their phone the whole time. I really wonder how many people under 50 enjoy, or even attempt, reading a long article, much less a book, without being interrupted many times. Or without first tweeting or posting to Facebook what they’re doing.

JOd4DPGLThifgf38Lpgj_IMGDeep thinking isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity. We’ve got to fight back. Put down our phones. Turn off the computer for a few hours. Go on a vacation that allows our brain to put on sunglasses, feel the breeze, and vegetate.

It’s great to have so much information at our fingertips 24 hours a day. But it’s also up to us to remember we can decide when we access it.

And when we’d rather let our brain send us its own amazing “pop-up”.

 “Stillness reveals the secrets of eternity.”

        Lao Tzu

 

 

 

 

Breaking bread without breaking into a fight.

I love the movie “Home For The Holidays” with Holly Hunter and Robert Downey Jr.  I think it captures the sweetness and dysfunction that can go hand-in-hand when you mix grown siblings, carving knives and childhood memories that maybe never were.  I really enjoy how in 10 minutes, this movie family can experience everything from empathy to sadness to raucous laughter to misery.   It’s a bumpy weekend, but if you ride it all the way through, the movie ends with a universal truth that touches your heart.  (At least it does mine.)

Turkey day is coming, and with it, a cornucopia of relatives, friends and ex-spouses you might not have seen in at least a year. Making safe conversation about something besides the weather can be more than difficult; it can feel like work when it seems you have nothing in common. And while some prefer to find an easy chair and just nod or smile occasionally and feign a trance, most of us want to at least find a way to interact without going down the forbidden paths of religion, politics, the right way to mash potatoes, the real color of someone’s hair, or that disagreement between the states (sometimes referred to as the Civil War).

And this year…well, need i really say it?  Politics is front and center.  Emotions are raw and for good reason.  If you’re dreading rubbing shoulders with those on the other side of the ideological fence, you’re not alone.

It’s a tough assignment. But as boomers, we have a rich frame of reference to draw from—so it should be easier, right?

leaves

We have been to enough holiday meals to understand that sometimes the oven explodes, the dog jumps in the middle of the table and there’s a shouting match before the salad is served.

It gives us rich material. Which comes in handy, as do good listening skills, curiosity, and some natural wit—all part of the art of conversation. After all, these are people you are going to be around for several hours—eating, cleaning up, walking after dinner, watching football, whatever—wouldn’t it be nice to find a few good topics for discussion?  (Or more simply, we’re not the family in the Norman Rockwell painting, but we do care about each other…and arguing when you’re consuming this much sugar and carbs just isn’t a good idea.)

Apparently this conundrum is universal.  Books tells us how to  master the art of wit and conversation.  Magazine articles instruct us on how to be nice to one another.  But rather than let sociologists pull a chair up to the dinner table, I try to go within and keep it simple.  For example:

  • When things get weird, be ready with a few subjects that make for good conversation instead of disagreements.
  • Keep your jokes short, and nice.  Really.  Save the tacky stuff for another time.
  • Listen to others with an open mind.  If you hear something you really don’t agree with, consider whether you want to challenge it…or maybe wait until later when you can trap the person in the food pantry and make your point then?  Or maybe just have another helping of dressing.
  • Remember you love these people. (Maybe not the boyfriend with more chains than Marley’s ghost , but he’s not here because of you anyway.  And maybe he just needs a hug.)candles

I think if you go to any  large gathering with the attitude that it will be positive and interesting, it usually turns out that way.  But I do  confess this year is going to be a major challenge for many of us.  My feelings are very strong, and I’m very disappointed in recent events.  But I also know that some in attendance at my Thanksgiving table feel differently. Maybe ahead of time, we should ask the host to declare a moratorium on debate.

Thanksgiving is about being grateful for what we have, the people in our lives, and even just the miracle of waking  up every day.  It’s a celebration of everything, including our differences.  As passionate and strong as they may be.

Like any family, we have strong opinions about a lot of things, but for a day, we can put aside our differences and turn off the cell phone and “like” just being together.  Enjoy the pie.

And argue later.

(We’ll have lots of chances to do so.)

 

“Where we love is home, home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.”

-Oliver Wendell Holmes

Being safely who we are.

Who   am I , really?  Am I not you?

Are you not me?

Are we not one and the same…beings who are essentially spirit, trying our best to love, live, breathe and make the most of our lives?

Is it ever fair to judge anyone?  To decide that we somehow know what is right, what is normal, and to judge others as coming up short?

I am but one person.  As are you. As each of us is.

IMG_0611 - Version 3Living, breathing, human.  Each doing his or her best.  Each just wanting to have a life.

To love.  To laugh.  To cry.  To make each day count.

How can it be okay for anyone to try and take that away?

I believe each person deserves to live life as fully and completely as anyone else.  I don’t have to agree with who they are.  I do not consider myself qualified to pass judgement on them.  Just as the ignorant and hateful have their rights, so do the loving and the peaceful.  In whatever color, form, or orientation they come in.

I am wearing a safety pin.  Its meaning is “you are safe with me.”  Whatever your religion.  Sexual orientation.  Color.  Whatever makes you who you are.

It’s okay.

We need not fear.

Because fear is why bad things happen.

We are too strong for that. I am too strong for that.  I will not let anyone rob me of my peace.

Take a moment.

Breathe.

Remember all your wisdom.  Your grace.  Your beliefs.  Your spirit.

All your life.  Now. You have been working toward getting to this place.  And now is your time.

file000143069688Don’t let anger, fear, or discord lead you astray.

Go within.  Seek your truth.

Life is short.  Let the ignorant rave.  They will not last long.

You are immortal.  Love is immortal.

Peace be yours.

 

“Best be yourself, imperial, plain and true!”

Robert Browning

“If God had wanted me otherwise, He would have created me otherwise.”

    Goethe

 

 

 

Walking the Labyrinth

Life can take us in many directions, and often on paths we never thought we’d choose.  Sometimes the way ahead is clear.  Other times, (and for me, more often than not,) the path ahead is a bit hazy…I can’t quite see the images…and when I get to that intersection I am really not sure where I’m supposed to go.

It’s like hiking, which has always been my favorite thing though these days my feet don’t want to cooperate.  I hike a trail. I can tell where it’s going.  Then I come to a point where it seems to split into many options.  Obviously only one is “really” the trail.  But the others look kind of okay…are they options?

If I choose one I’ve never done before, will it bring me back to where I am right now?

 Or will I get lost and never find my way back? 

The movies want you to think that it’s easy to figure out moments like this.  There’s a sudden vision.  Or the music changes and the sun comes out and you just know.  More likely is you are tired, distracted and you’d just like someone to come along and tell you which way is which.

file000143069688That whole fantasy about how things get easier as you get older…hmmm…how’s that working for you?  I agree we have more wisdom as we age.  But I’m not sure it always makes things easier.

When my mind won’t settle enough for me to figure out what’s next, or there’s just no peace because it feels like I’ve backtracked and messed up and soon I’ll even up living under a bridge, I try to find experiences that quiet it all.  Meditation is good.  Tai chi is restorative.  Nature is always a balm.

And then there’s the labyrinth.

According to The Labyrinth Society, a “labyrinth is a single path or unicursal tool for personal, psychological or spiritual transformation.  Labyrinths are thought to enhance right brain activity.”    Labyrinths are considered walking meditations, where your psyche meets your spirit.

Labyrinth enthusiasts believe that as you enter the labyrinth, you release.  When you enter the center, you receive.  Then as you leave, you give back to the world what you have received.

One of the most famous labyrinths is that found at Chartres Cathedral in France.  This labyrinth is 42 feet in diameter and is thought to have been constructed in the early 13th century, though no one is sure.  What is known is that up to 1,000 people have walked the path and the numbers continue to grow.

What is it that pulls so many people to walk this design?  Does it really have a power all its own?

Many years ago I was at a point in my life where I could not figure out what was my inner self giving me direction, or what were the messages I’d absorbed for years from well-meaning but negative people I was around.  I just wanted to clear my mind and get a feel for what my path should be.  I had heard of a large labyrinth laid out at a church near me, and I decided to try it.  A friend had suggested that before I walk the labyrinth, I say a prayer or meditation of what I hoped to find…what answer I was looking for.  And be sure to enter the design with as clear a mind as possible.

Easier said than done, but I followed her advice.  And it was, for me, an amazing feeling.  As I entered the labyrinth, I felt what I can best describe as a force field…an energy that seemed very real and very strong.  I took my time and let thoughts come and go.  What most impressed me was how just as you think you’re about to reach the center, the labyrinth takes you back out to the outer edges, slowing you down, making you revisit where you have come from, not allowing you to just quickly find that golden egg.

In other words, you can’t get where you going without circling back to where you’ve been. 

I find that to be a huge lesson.  We don’t just come out of the rodeo shoot and never look back.  We make progress, we accomplish things, we lead our lives…but we’re always calling upon where we’ve come from.

Some reject this idea, as they have come from places or environments that were abusive or so negative they never want to look back.  I understand that for sure.  But I think even that pain has something to teach us and if we boomers ignore it, it’s just going to keep popping up and block our forward motion.

dioI also noted how once I reached the center of the labyrinth, I felt peace.  I could just breathe and be for a bit.  (How often do we do that??)  Then as I was ready to leave the center, I once again had to follow a path that picked up speed, then slowed, and again, took me literally full circle…to the outer edges and back.

Maybe this all sounds weird.  But lately, I’m in a place again where my inner self is a bit off-balance, where it is easy to give in to the notion that because I’ve returned to an earlier address, I’ve failed or walked backwards.  Yet my conscious mind knows that’s not the case; I’ve just taken one of those spur trails to see where it will take me.

I’ll still get where I was going, but I will take an unexpected route.  And it might be one that for a while doesn’t feel quite right, like putting on shoes that don’t fit or a sweater that itches.  But if I trust a higher force to get me through the dark parts, then surely there’s a vista at the end of this trail that’s far more beautiful than I could have imagined.

I let go.  I receive.  I give back.  And maybe in the process, I return to who I am so I can be even more.

“Methinks the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.”     

       Henry David Thoreau

 

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