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Spam I am

by Frank Forencich on December 13, 2014

If you’ve ever spent any time in the modern world, you’ll know that life today is one long battle with complexity, noise and hyper-stimulation. Acoustic noise is bad enough; most of us are well aware that it causes us excess stress and harms our health in myriad ways. But acoustic noise is just one kind of unwelcome stimuli. We’re routinely assaulted by visual noise, cognitive noise, and conceptual noise at every turn. All of these forms have a similar effect on our attention and well-being: Not only do they distract us, they also force us to bring more and more of our metabolic and psychological resources to bear just to maintain our focus. This effort is exhausting and will-power depleting. Fighting your way through a daily thicket of acoustic, visual and cognitive noise eventually takes its toll.

To tap a modern metaphor, we might well say that our modern problem with complexity and noise resembles our battles with spam. Spam, of course, is unwanted email, but in a larger sense, spam is any distracting stimuli that interferes with our primary objective. In essence, spam is noise.

We can even create our own taxonomy of spam. Just as we are buried with spam in our inboxes, we’re assaulted with sensory spam, cognitive spam, linguistic spam, commercial spam and cultural spam. Naturally, corporate advertisers and marketers are responsible for much of the deluge. Modern media, TV, radio and the Internet have opened the floodgates to invasive messaging, noise and unwanted stimuli of all varieties, piped into our lives in every second of every day. The noise never stops; we can scarcely hear or feel the natural world or our bodies above the din.

Externally-created spam is bad enough, but we make things far worse by generating our own spam. Perversely, we spam ourselves with cognitive noise, repetitive narratives, chronic strategizing, rumination, worry and recriminations. In fact, this kind of spam may actually dwarf the stuff that comes into our in-boxes. And of course, it all feeds into a nasty vicious spiral of amplification. External spam feeds our stress response which jacks up our internal noise and in turn, creates more stress. It’s all one hyper-linked noise machine.

So what are we supposed to do with all this spam and noise that flows through our lives, our minds and our bodies?

The most obvious first step is to limit the onslaught with rigorous triage. Decide what’s really important in your life.  Learn how to say no to hyper-normal stimulation. Build firewalls around your most vital, health-giving practices. Keep your electronic devices at bay.

Likewise, we’d do well to simplify our homes, our workspaces, our gyms and studios. Make these places beautiful. Follow the Japanese model of the dojo, or the French art of Mise en place. Pronounced MEEZ ahn plahs, this practice puts things in their place. It’s attention to order, with care and forethought. It’s often employed in cooking, but applies equally to any discipline and any environment. Clean and simplify as you go.

Meditation is also an ideal practice for eradicating spam, particularly the self-generated variety. Unfortunately, this process often begins badly. Beginners are likely to sit down, focus on their breathing and quickly become distressed. Suddenly it becomes obvious just how chaotic and noisy our minds really are. Sitting quietly in one place, we can feel our personal spam generators at work, spewing out an astonishing stream of random thoughts, images, judgments, opinions and non sequiturs. The typical human mind generates enough spam to put an eastern European basement hacker to shame. Indeed, a paper published last summer in Science, found that people would prefer electric shocks to being left alone with their own thoughts.  The report concluded:  “the untutored mind does not like to be left alone with itself.” And to make matters worse, resistance only makes the spam generator more active; the more we try to fight the stream of thought, the stronger it becomes.

The solution lies in non-resistance and persistence. Observe the flow of spam as it arises, then return your attention to your breath. The spam will come, but don’t judge the content or the fact that you’ve generated it. There’s nothing to be ashamed of here; spam is an entirely normal feature of the human mind.
Next, relinquish any attachments that form; if your mind sticks to any bit of spam or goes on some kind of journey, just let it go. Relax and return to your breath, again and again. Keep doing this for a good long while, then do it frequently; daily is best. Over the course of weeks and months, the flood of spam will subside and in the process, you’ll gain a sense of calm and equanimity.

And then, if you can figure out what to do about all that junk that shows up in your inbox, you’ll be a master of your art.

 

meditator_optimized

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We need to talk…

by Frank Forencich on December 8, 2014

 

Hey you!

Put down that device and listen up. I have something to say and I need your complete attention.

This is your body speaking. Remember me? I’m the one that keeps you alive. I’m the one that makes it all happen for you. I’m the one that learns your world. I’m the ultimate source of your creativity and yes, your intelligence. But I’m getting really tired of the way you’ve been treating me lately. In fact, I think it’s time to call this for what it is: an abusive relationship.

In the first place, you don’t listen to me. I’ve been talking to you for a long time now, but you haven’t been paying attention, so now I need to be clear. I am tired of being ignored.

It all starts with your toxic, sedentary lifestyle. You make me sit in chairs for days and weeks at a time. We sit at work all day, then get in the car and sit, then sit some more. It’s sit, sit, sit. I hardly ever get to use my legs anymore. Can’t you feel the itch to get up and move?

And then there’s the stuff you feed me. It’s mostly crap. I want real food, not that glow-in-the-dark stuff you expect me to burn. Don’t you get it? I evolved to eat real plants, meats, fish and nuts from our habitat, not a factory. You don’t even know what you’re eating or where it comes from. Just stop it with the refined food-products and sugar, OK? The insulin spikes are killing me.

And don’t get me started on the stress. Everything seems to be an emergency for you. It one big fight-flight thing isn’t it? The constant multi-tasking, fear, anxiety, tension; you’re on edge 24/7, and I need a break. How about some oxytocin every now and then?

To make matters worse, you don’t give me enough time to sleep. You keep the lights on almost all the time. I want to go to bed, but you make me think it’s day time all the time. You keep me up late for no good reason, then you get up early and expect me to rally.

And can’t you just give me a few deep breaths once in awhile? Can’t you just sit still for awhile and do nothing? Why do you have to be doing something every minute of every day? Your frenetic activity is driving me crazy. I can’t even remember the last time we just lived in the present moment.

The worst thing is the way you keep me isolated from my natural habitat. We hardly ever go outdoors anymore and even when we do, you’re on the phone or you put those awful screaming buds in my ears. I can’t even hear the birds or the wind.

Don’t you get it? I am an animal. And not so long ago, I was a wild animal. But now you expect me to function as a domesticated creature, incarcerated indoors and divorced from the sensations and experiences that give us life. You are a fool if you expect this kind of relationship to work for very long.

You’re on the wrong path, bozo. Your cognitive, neck-up, abstract approach to everything leaves me out of the picture and I’m not going to take it much longer. All your calculation, strategizing and planning is killing me. Do you think I’m just a locomotor device for your eyeballs? Didn’t it ever occur to you that I might have some more interesting capabilities beyond the ability to move a mouse, scroll a menu or swipe a screen?

So wake up brother: I need a voice and I will be heard. I’m usually pretty good about adapting to circumstances, but I’m getting sick and tired of the way you’re treating me. I need to express myself; I need to move and I need to be in touch with the natural world. If you can’t figure out a way to make that happen, I’m going to have to push back and you’re not going to like it. You either start taking care of me or I’m going to make your life miserable.

And remember, when it comes to the quality of our life, I’m the one who gets the last word.

 

 

 

body-breaking-free

 

 

 

 

 

 

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