I’m going to make a sweeping statement here. Ready for it? American society has become so overloaded with information, and its constant need to access that information, that it has actually dumbed down. According to Nielson, the average US home receives around 119 t.v. channels. That’s just the average; there are hundreds available. Turn on the radio, and the FCC says there are over 13,000 broadcast radio stations in the US. Tune into satellite radio, and you’ve got almost 1,000 more at your disposal. Want instant information on exactly what you’re looking for? Just Google it. Or maybe Bing it. Or Dogpile it. Use whatever search engine you like best, there are plenty of them in a myriad of languages just waiting to take you to literally countless webpages, blogs, and wikis that are filled with information, misinformation, facts, myths, opinions, misprints, and outright lies. We bombard ourselves with all of this information on a continual basis and yet, there is a serious lack of discernment over what is true and what is poo.
We can’t seem to leave it alone either. Look around the waiting room – most people are on their phones. Look around Starbucks, Panera, McDonald’s, or whatever restaurant you happen to be in – more phones. On the bus? Phones. In the park? Phones. As soon as that little ding sounds off on an airplane? Phones and other electronic devices. I know I’ve read many people lamenting the loss of conversation and connection with others around us, but what about the connection with ourselves and our thoughts? I’m afraid that we are losing the ability to contemplate, ruminate and even create by being continually connected and forever obsessed with constant information. We need time to mull things over and find out what’s really running around the most amazing machine ever to grace the earth – our own minds. So, I’ve come up with a list (because who doesn’t like a useful list?) of ways to reconnect with our own thoughts.
1. Take a Walk
Ok, so lot of us take walks, but let’s do this a little differently. No ear buds, no iPods, and if you bring your phone for safety, put it in your pocket and leave it there. Look around, work on your posture, think about your day, greet the world face forward. No, I mean it. Actually greet the other people you pass – say hi! Do this regularly, and don’t be surprised if a friendly face you meet along the way becomes an actual friend.
2. Read a Book
I don’t mean an e-book either. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Kindle as much as the next reader, but there is just something about the printed word. So, go buy an actual book (at an actual bookstore, if you can) or a library and experience the feel of the paper, the scent of the ink, and the sound of the turning pages as you lose yourself in the story. Do yourself one better: join a book club and go talk about your experience, discuss your thoughts.
3. Share a Book
Do you own that paperback you just finished? Great. Add a sticky note to the cover that reads, “I’m free and single. Take me home!” and leave it somewhere in public. How does that connect you with your thoughts? You’ll think about that book and wonder who picked it up and what it meant to them. You might even create a whole story in your head about it. Hey! Write that story down! And then the next time you are talking to one of your smart, literary type friends, you can tell them all about how meta your experience was and how cathartic it was to think about meaning in that way. They will be duly impressed.
Journal about your day. Write a poem. Write some questions down that have been bugging you. Did someone’s opinion tick you off on Facebook? Instead of spouting off on social media, write down what you thought about it and why. Read it over, think about it and really decide what you think. It doesn’t matter what you decide to write; just take actual pen to actual paper and let those thoughts flow.
5. Write a letter
Don’t type it. We’re not talking about e-mail or text. Sit down and write an actual letter that you intend to send in the mail. Is a whole letter a bit scary? Ok, start smaller. Buy a pack of notecards (you can even find them in the dollar rack) and commit to writing a quick note and sending it to someone once a week until the pack is gone. Trust me, the people you send those notes to will be thrilled to get something other than a bill in the mail.
6. Wait in a Waiting Room
Resist the urge to pull out that smart phone in the waiting room. Instead, before your appointment, buy one of those word search, crossword, or soduku books off of the supermarket rack and work some puzzles out with paper and pencil instead of pixels and a touchscreen. Or, grab a magazine off the waiting room rack that you would normally never buy and read about something new. Or, and this is epic, just wait and let your thoughts flow freely in your head.
7. Enjoy a Hot Cup of Joe
Grab that skinny mochachino with an extra shot and just sit and watch the world go buy. Brew your favorite cup of tea and sit on your porch. Take your hot chocolate to the park and look around. Indulge in a slow sipping session of people watching and contemplating.
8. Spend Time in Prayer
It’s amazing how much we get to know ourselves through prayer, but it makes a lot of sense. We pray for what’s important to us. However, you have to go beyond simply asking for help and have a full conversation with God in which you really tell Him all about it. It can take practice, but it’s worth it. If prayer isn’t your thing, learn how to meditate. It will plunge you deeply into your thoughts.
9. Read a Printed Newspaper
Go buy your local newspaper, pull out the local news section and read it front to back. Find out what is happening in the area closest to you. And don’t leave out the obituaries either. Read those memorials and find out what made all those ordinary people extraordinary to those who will miss them so much. Think about what you want yours to say.
Yep, thinking about what you want your obituary to say seems a bit cliché, I will agree. However, there really is something to that line of thinking. We are only here for a short bit. No matter how many years we have, it will never seem long enough. Our connection with other people is our legacy, but if we don’t know ourselves and our own thoughts, how can we ever really connect to other people?