What I Have Heard From The Ones Up Ahead

 

I teach a college course called Relaxation Techniques. One of the topics we cover is looking at how technology  impacts our health and well-being. Working with 200 students each year, here is the short list of what I consistently hear, each and every semester:

Of the way their cell phones serve as a “lifeline,” and that without them they would be lost, afraid and disconnected.

Of the collective agreement to turn a blind eye to how people lie online.

Of the headaches, neck strain, insomnia and shoulder pain they experience when in front of their screens.

Of a looming feeling that maybe their devices will cause cancer, but being unable to let go of them nontheless.

Of the uneasy feeling that part of them is missing without their phones.

Of the overwhelm when their phone is about to lose its charge.

Of the exhaustion they regularly feel because instead of going to sleep they get caught up in a Netflex binge, or get lost checking their social media sites.

Of the sadness and disappointment they feel when a friend is more interested in their device than them.

Of the feeling that whoever they are with, they are always with someone else.

Of the addiction they see in others and experience within themselves.

Of the despair that only comes late at night thinking that maybe the days and months logged gaming might not be so cool after all.

Of the realization that there is always, always an excuse to have their cell phone out, even though it is getting in the way of school work, intimacy, peace of mind or sleep.

Of the lack of satisfying connection in their relationships despite their ability to get in touch with anyone at any time.

Of real life, in-person conversations being awkward, thinking that maybe that is why people say this generation has deteriorated social skills.

Of the deep and pervasive fear to be alone with themselves.

Of the time they spend stressing over a single letter or punctuation mark, fearful of how it will be received.

Of being constantly afraid that something will happen to them or someone they know, but that as long as they are with a cell phone they will be insulated from that harm somehow.

Of the fear to call as opposed to text because you never know what someone might say.

Of the terror that perhaps their lives are not meaningful without someone else looking at what they have posted, tweeted, or snapchatted.

And of the sense that something is not working, but feeling that this is just how it is now.

They believe this is how it is now because they do not have a before. They believe this is how it is because this is what we have taught them. They believe this is how it is because this is what we as the grown-ups in their lives have allowed to occur.

Cross-Training For The Mind

 

Perhaps you have experienced, or at least heard of, the benefits of cross-training for the body. The view being that when we repeatedly do the same movements over and over, our bodies can get too “efficient” and therefor complacent around a set of movements. When this happens our overall conditioning decreases and our risk of injury increases. By training the body in a variety of ways, we open ourselves up to greater strength and flexibility.

We can take this very same approach when we want to create a more resilient and flexible mind; one that works in the service of our greatest hopes and desires as opposed to being too “efficient” with thought patterns that no longer serve us, ultimately even harming us. Our nervous systems, i.e. the brain and therefor our thinking, thrive in the presence of novelty. The more novel and unfamiliar something is, the more the mind can stretch and change.

This knowledge lies embedded in the system of Yoga. The ancient yogis came to know that when they put their bodies into different shapes, it gave them access to different energies and states of consciousness. If you have ever seen a picture of an old yogi putting themselves into an unimaginable position, you get a sense of the mind states they were accessing. Different levels of consciousness and ways of thinking become available to us when we move our bodies in unusual and unhabituated ways.

Modern living encourages a lot of linear, forward movement while being hunched over something. There is also a lot of sitting. Not only is this hard on the body, but it creates a kind of equivalent mind set. If you have ever wondered why you always keep getting the same things over and over again in your life, it is because you keep doing the same things over and over; in both mind and body.

If you desire a different way of thinking about yourself and your place in the world, try intentionally moving your body in unique and unfamiliar ways. Get on the floor and move. Walk backwards, sideways and in circles. Try walking in messy and random ways as opposed to the linear habit of getting from here to there in the fastest and shortest way possible. Meander, shake and shimmy as you move through your day. And then, notice. Outlook, moods, thinking and energy levels shift according to the way we move our bodies. A particularly powerful practice is to become aware of a thought you would like to shift and then, whenever it arises, consciously move your body in an unusual way. Your intention and a new shape in the body creates a new neurological reality in the mind. And with it, the change you are seeking.

 

National Play Day

 

February 3rd was National Play Day. This global event involved over 100,000 children. Students arrived at school that day and instead of the typical curriculum, the focus was child-driven, unstructured and free of any screentime. When exactly did playing become something we needed to schedule a day for? And while National Play Day is a beautiful effort towards highlighting the essential role that play plays in our children’s overall physical, emotional, social and intellectual development, the need for a special day suggests just how far astray we have traveled in our understanding of what our children need to develop and learn; beginning with the reality that one day will just not cut it. Ever. Nor will any other top-down, adult scheduled ideas about how and when children should play.

It puts me in mind of the notices that would be sent home around standardized testing time reminding parents to make sure the kids got a good night’s sleep, ate a healthy breakfast and were sent to school with a healthy snack. Each time I would receive one of these notices, my blood would boil. Why was this reminder coming at testing time instead of it being the way we supported our children each and every day? And why is it that we select, schedule and commodify “special” times and events for doing things that our children¬†require each and every day? Why? Because in our busy, fast paced, machine-driven orientation to life, we have become blind to our own needs, and therefore to the needs of our children.

Play seems so frivolous and so very expendable in a world where if things are not immediately accessible and known to us then they must surely be irrelevant and a waste of time. But then the latest research will tell us that play will make our kids smarter, more emotionally stable, and then of course we will feel guilted into scheduling it in. We will make it a priority, wondering all the while how we will possibly keep up with all of the ever-increasing demands that we as parents must meet these days in raising our children. We will schedule more playdates because it is good for them. We will join in with National Play Day once a year. We will stretch ourselves thinner and thinner, all the while completely missing the point. That point being that there is no point to play and that it shows up all on its own with nothing required of us grown-ups. It is not a matter of doing more, but of doing less.

If you are stuck, look to the children. No one needs to convince a child to play. It is only the adults that need to be reminded. Joseph Campbell once wrote that what we are all really looking for is the experience of being alive. No one knows the feeling of being alive better than children at play. They do not require research, special occasions or reasons. They do not require store bought accoutrements or an adult to take the lead. Maybe, instead of scheduling playdates and national play days, we should all sit back, leave lots of space in our children’s day, and watch what happens. It might actually turn out to be exactly what we all need.