Today I started a challenge. 

 

It was given to me by Note to Self: Infomagical, a very interesting podcast that a client suggested I tune into. The challenge is designed to create more magic in my life. I love this idea. I could always use more magic in my world.  I have signed up, filled out the fun questionnaire and have chosen my goal of being more in tune with myself.   I have a few reasons I am diving into this challenge, but one is to play with an idea I have been entertaining lately- to have days or hours where I "unplug" from email, my phone and computer and tune into just me. I find I am increasingly feeling a bit ragged at the end of my day, after answering daily emails from clients, new clients, other clinicians, employees, billing services, insurance companies and the odd intern inquiry, making  calls in the moments I have between sessions, managing all of the daily details of my business and planning groups. The tricky part is that with all of this background noise (fun and interesting background noise), I am attempting to be fully present, focused and emotionally engaged with the six wonderful humans I meet with each day who want my help. As much as the work of counseling totally fulfills and nourishes me, at the end of my week, I find I am needing more time where I do not feel on and engaged, but retreated and resourcing. If this challenge works, in my magical world without information overload, I will feel more in tune with myself, more relaxed, and more attuned to my phrase for 2016 -"Cultivating Calm." Perhaps I might even feel energized at the end of my day!

Does this sound like you?  "I am so overwhelmed by all of the information coming at me every day." "Why do I spend an hour of facebook every morning when I should be starting my projects?" "I can't seem to stop compulsively checking my emails/facebook/instagram/news sites. I don't know what I am looking for." "I never feel satisfied- always distracted." These clients are frustrated at themselves, and yet feeling exhausted simply by the act of scrolling, swiping and clicking for more and more information. What are they (we) looking for?

Did you know that neurobiologically, we are only able to successfully track 150 people at a time? This is known as  Dunbar's number. This information was discovered long before the ubiquity of internet access, and specifically pertained to the study of human tribe-making. So imagine living with your family, your extended family and your partner's family and extended family. That is about how many folks we can actually monitor the movement of, remember their names, and sympathize with their plights. "Aww, I almost fell into that quicksand, too!". This number allows us to keep track of a tribe member's particular skills and gifts. "Your mom's aunt is great with antelope meatloaf!".  "Thanks! Your cousin's Dad is such a skilled skinner!"

I often think about how it must be affecting our poor modern brains to try and track so many people at once online, and also without the benefit of a "felt" experience of them or with them. This is not even addressing all of the "facts", situations and information we feel compelled to keep abreast of on a daily, hourly or moment to moment basis in order to have some illusion of being informed. (Another post might be: "What is 'informed', anyway?!")

Apparently, we now typically internally change our direction of focus every 45 seconds. The neuroscientists interviewed in Infomagical: Day 1 have done studies to show that we actually become more stressed and exhausted as we internally switch from one task or screen to another on our computers. So the exhaustion you feel is not merely psychological, but is actual physical depletion related to our limited ability to jump tracks. It even explains why we might crave sugar while engaged in the hunt to satiate our craving for more information, as the brain needs glucose.CaoJtm7UUAADEm8

Author Marie Kondo, in The Magic of Tidying Up, and Spark Joy  suggests that we tidy our phones as well as our physical worlds in order to make room for Magic.  I am eager to hear tomorrow's installment of Infomagic, where they will be instructing me on how to do this. Because I am excited, I went ahead and took a stab at it. Here is my new homescreen: devoid of clutter, but with an image that sparks my inspiration and sense of peace. (This is the first photo I took on this phone, of a lovely stone garden Buddha at A lot of Flowers in Fairhaven.)

The next natural question in my mind is why do we jump? Why is it so compelling? What is so hard about sitting with ourselves, engaged in a task of some sort, for more than 45 seconds?

I suspect to be engaged fully (even at our computers in the midst of a regular day) we would have to feel our feelings, be in our bodies, and tune into our human-ness,and our softness. And who is prepared to do that?! Well, many of us might want to, but being equipped to simply gaze at ourselves without breathy anxiety or discomfort is not an innate skill many of us seem to have. We are more accustomed to masking or avoiding our more vulnerable emotions and do not yet have the ability to look sadness, boredom or fear right in the eye with acceptance and grace. Maybe it is not "yet" but more accurately, we do not remember the ability to sit within our softness. American Buddhist nun Pema Chodron calls this "Uncovering our Natural Wakefulness", and believes that we actually all have this ability down, but we have just to train in it like we trained in distraction and mastered that!

I think I will begin my own added component to this Infomagical challenge in order to add a deeper layer of mental support in my endeavor to cultivate calm. I must declutter my mind and strengthen my ability to remain with my mind in order for my neurobiological habits to change, so I will re-strengthen my commitment to daily meditation. (I often suggest that clients use the Insight Timer App. It is free and remarkably easy to use. It also has many guided meditations for you to choose from.)  I am currently teaching a meditation class called "Sit With It", which helps  people develop and deepen their ability to work with their minds through meditation techniques. The teacher who founded the tradition I learned meditation from, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, referred to this uncovering of the powerful quality of our present moment mind as "Ordinary Magic". So, for me this week, it is all about Magic! I will let you know how it goes. I would love to hear how you cultivate Magic in your life, as well!

 


Written by Karen King, MS, LMHC
Karen is a practicing counselor in the Pacific Northwest

Read more about Karen at https://kinghealthassoc.com/karen-king-ms-lmhc


Comments

Dana B.'s picture

So, Karen, as I read this fabulous installment, I am drawn back to my three classrooms of remedial reading middle schoolers. We have just participated in a week of positive self-awareness brought to us by Rachel’s Challenge foundation, a movement created after the Columbine shootings by the family of Rachel Smith, the first student shot by the angry young men that day. Rachel left behind journals that have become the force behind a movement based on creating a chain of kindness and compassion around the world. Without going into too much detail, the week in which we have just participated has spurred my 12-14 year olds to write in their own journals. The trouble we have found is that sitting still and quiet for any period of time is extremely difficult for them even when they are highly motivated to draw or write about positive things. We have found that we must set a timer for five mins during which we may not communicate with anyone else in the room. We want to just learn to “be” within ourselves. To be withIN ourselves, not just with ourselves – a distinction they came up with. And, journal practice was the avenue they wanted to emulate from Rachel’s life. However, each day we find we are forced to restart the timer and try again. Today, we upped the goal to ten whole quiet minutes. We celebrated that we made it to eight mins. When did it become so difficult to sit quietly within ourselves for such a short period of time? And, when will our brain’s structure be forever changed due to lack of this practice? Magic doesn’t just happen; it must be seen or felt to be real. If no one remembers to look for it, will there be magic anymore? Thank you, Karen. Once again your thoughts have been enlightening and just what I need. My middle schoolers will benefit from your insights. :-)
karen's picture

Thank you so much for your thoughts. I am really amazed at your work with your students! What a gift they are getting learning how to sit with themselves!
Jessie Brown's picture

Thanks for your post, Karen! I would highly encourage you to write the “What is ‘informed’, anyway?!” post. This an issue I really struggle with, though I think I may be coming at the problem from the opposite perspective as many people these days. Unlike a lot of people I witness, I do NOT feel compelled to compulsively check the news, or facebook, etc. Quite the opposite, I feel some sort of aversion. Now here’s the thing, I have no desire to be an impulsive facebook checker (I really don’t care what people had for breakfast this morning, and honestly I can even do without the cute pictures of their kids and cats… I can catch up with them when I see them in real life). But I DO have quite a strong desire to be more informed, whatever that means. (I won’t take a stab at it here, I’ll leave it to you ;)) More specifically being informed about my community, society, and world is something that I value because I feel that it not only feeds an intellectual curiosity but also allows me to be a better citizen. (By the same token you could say that being an “informed” family member or friend might help you to have a better relationship with that person – I just wouldn’t choose to get my info through compulsive facebook checking). Yet time is of course finite, and so time that could be spent reading the news (with intention) could also be spent meditating or doing other self-nurturing activities. I suppose that in the end it is all about what balance is right for any individual person, but for me it is a dilemma I have yet to solve.
karen's picture

Jessie, Thanks for your thoughtful response. I agree with you that it seems to be an individual “balance”- how much to retreat, self nurture and how much to tune into the outside world and gather info. I admire how you have somehow managed to avoid information overload. I think that takes a lot of discipline and awareness in this day and age. where time really is our most precious commodity. Ultimately, I suspect we find good citizen satisfaction through our passions. When we become very “well informed” in an area of our lives (for example fitness or soap-making) I believe it must translate to our sense of purpose and engagement in all that we do. There might be a myth in our world that we have to know a little about a lot of different things to be “informed”, but I have an inkling that deepening in a single area (or just a few) brings that connected feeling and perspective that drives the desire to feel “well-informed”. Just some initial thoughts! I will definitely be percolating on this idea and would value your contributions! Karen

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