The past six months have been pretty amazing. They’ve also pretty much kicked my ass. I’m blessed with a naturally high energy level, so I didn’t realize just how mentally fried I was.
Granted, I spent the better part of the winter traveling to awesome places and hanging out at the coast with my cat. I was on a fantastic high – calmed by the ocean, recovered from the negativity of my last job, detoxed from the digital overload of modern life, and excited by all the possibilities in front of me. It was a joyful, relaxed and fairly insulated existence.
But the entire time I was thinking. Thinking, thinking, thinking… Thinking about what I wanted to do next…thinking about what I didn’t want to do next…thinking about everything I could do next…thinking about how I still didn’t know what I wanted to do next…thinking about how much I think about what I want to do next… You get the idea.
Last month, on our road trip to Marfa for the Railroad Revival Tour, my friend Morgan pointed out that I really didn’t sit still all weekend. She suggested that maybe I could have spent more time just soaking up the scenery. It’s true, I was busy doing all the fun stuff on offer, with all the fun people I met. I genuinely like to go/see/do – I’m actually energized by it. But as a result, my mind doesn’t get much of a chance to idle. Sure, I shut down when I sleep, but it’s not often that I simply hang out and veg – especially alone. And while a 2 day whirlwind of awesomeness was exactly what I expected in Marfa, I decided she had a point. Isn’t stillness a part of mindful living?
So I quietly declared May a month of rest and relaxation. Not just sleep, but down time. Home time. Pool time. Staring-at-the-trees time. I spent the past 2 weekends mostly at home, chilling out with family and friends. It has been wonderful and I feel rested.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the relaxation part of R&R – a dull grey cloud started to creep in and screw up my serenity. I’ve been less concerned with my own path, yet the state of our world has seemed tangled and grey. At times I’ve battled some serious frustration (OK outrage) with my fellow humans.
Thanks to my digital sabbatical this winter, it wasn’t hard to figure out what was going on: I’ve been over-consuming information from the 24-hour news buffet.
Yep, I’ve figured out that the grey tends to descend when I’m reading too much news. Shocker, I know. There is “news” everywhere. And, of course, it just keeps getting worse – it’s hard out here for a progressive.
MLK’s now infamous words during the bin-Laden-death-quotegate-a-thon 2011 really gave me pause:
Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction. (note: this is the real quote from Where Do We Go from Here : Chaos or Community? 1967)
I believe it’s my responsibility as a citizen of the planet to stay informed and aware. And I believe I have an obligation to right all wrongs in the world that I can. But information that I feel compelled to share or comment on crosses my consciousness multiple times a day – mostly because it outrages or depresses me. So if I’m spreading anger and despair instead of love and light, am I going about changing the world in the right way? Am I actually doing any good shoveling around these alerts of injustice? Or am I adding to the darkness – the grey – in the world? If so, can I justify sticking my head in the sand? Where is the balance? What is the right path to change? I don’t know the answer to these questions – they are the kind of things we used to stay up all night in college debating over all manner of intoxicants. Back then I was asking to be philosophical; now I need an answer I can live with. And I suspect I’m not the only one. (psst – wanna come discuss over some wine?)
Here’s what I do know: we all have access to way too much information – more than we can ever, ever use effectively. My weakness is news and public affairs. Yours might be sports or celebrity gossip or, I don’t know, Facebook posts. Hell, maybe you don’t have this problem. But I bet you do. It has become endemic to American life. I don’t need to spend any more time lamenting the digital yoke we are all under – you’re reading my blog (and what time is it anyway??)
In his book The 4-hour Work Week, Tim Ferris champions the Low-Information diet. His reasons are generally productivity related: “Most information is time-consuming, negative, irrelevant to your goals, and outside of your influence.” Brilliant! And on top of that, it brings me down and makes me angry. Gotta get me some more of that. Not.
I’m an information worker, so there is no way I will completely quit it – the information or the news. But it’s time for a detox; time to correct the trajectory of my thoughts so they remain positive.
So starting immediately, I’m on a low information-high gratitude diet. I’ve temporarily unsubscribed from my favorite dealers – The Nation, Mother Jones, Truth Out…even Democracy Now! I’ve hidden them from my Facebook feed and I’ve deleted the bookmarks from my toolbar. I’ve even changed up my Yahoo & Google home pages to be news free. This isn’t a digital sabbatical and it isn’t a media fast. I simply plan to partake in very little news, share very little news, and comment on very little news for at least a month.
Instead I hope to share more love, more respect and more appreciation. The other part of this diet is actively cultivating an attitude of gratitude. This includes no whining. It isn’t difficult, in fact it’s a total blast. It just takes practice and a willingness to jump right back on the wagon when I fall off. Example: last week, I felt grouchy about having to spend my free evening and my cash on an unexpected faucet replacement. As I greeted the plumber, it occurred to me that I should be grateful – grateful I didn’t have any plans that night, grateful the plumber didn’t have any plans that night, and grateful I had the money to pay for the repair. I expressed this and my mood was instantly turned around.
Bottom line – I am choosing to spend more time vegging out and appreciating all the good stuff in the great big world. I am choosing this because it feels good to focus my attention on the blessings I receive. It feels good to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative (and it’s fun to channel Baloo the bear!)
I encourage everyone to take a small step that helps you feel a little bit happier and excited about our collective playground. And thank you for caring enough to read this!