Presence, “I Spy,” and your Nervous System.

I think a lot about how our humanity has become woven into the machinery of the world. On many days, it looks like the machinery has the upper hand. . .

until we realize we can reclaim what makes us sentient, thoughtful, artistic, funny, generous, loving. There’s a lot to be said for being a human!

We have unwittingly become trained to seek out the dopamine hit of checking for a new message, looking for a “like” or following up on a news push notification. The more we check, the more we want that “hit” more often. Our independence and choice are diminished and our collective attention span recedes into the sunset. I’m right there with you, but am learning to choose “person over phone” more often these days.

Are you weak-willed because you just keep clicking? You’re not.

If you watched the 2020 documentary, The Social Dilemma, you might remember that programmers for social media sites (and this was years before the documentary was made) have known how to keep you engaged and poking away at your device. They are very, very good at it.

We’re so caught in this cycle that we’ll choose to be on screens to the detriment of our physical health. Our hands, necks, fingers, spines and breath bear the brunt of our having been trained to seek the dopamine hit. We’ve become uncomfortable with engaging in solitary mental activity. In fact, that resting state is rich with creativity and healing, once you get past the initial discomfort of saying no to your phone. (Do it! It feels great!)

Orienting to our environment is fundamental for physical and emotional health. It is the first thing infants do as they begin to engage with the world and grow neural connections.

Orienting helps build proprioception— knowing where we are in space. Without it, our nervous systems are flailing, looking to right us without a compass to do so. It is challenging to regulate a nervous system that hasn’t learned to orient. There isn’t a substitute for it and every moment of our lives offers us the opportunity to practice it.

Your health, which is different from fitness, is a collection of attitudes and practices, rather than a one-to-one correlation of how to “fix” something.

You might not realize the importance of simply looking around. When you take in your surroundings, you connect with the world, become curious about other people, grow your proprioception and create agency in making a choice to put down your device. It all adds up. Will it cure everything that ails you? No. But an orienting practice is a powerful declaration of your presence to yourself and the world.

How about a gentle first go?

Next time you are in a waiting room, at a rest stop, sitting in your car waiting for something, how about making the choice to put down your phone and look around?

Notice how you feel. Sometimes it will quiet your nervous system and sometimes it might create a slight agitation at first. No worries! It gets easier and more enjoyable.

Sometimes I play “I Spy” with myself, picking out circular shapes, shadows, the color orange, that kind of thing. It really is fun.

You might feel uncomfortable and a little foolish standing at a rest stop or in a line just looking around. It can feel vulnerable. But who knows, you might strike up a short, friendly conversation with a fellow human that will become part of the story of your day.

Let’s allow ourselves presence and connection. No matter how smart those programmers are, presence and connection with your world won’t be replaced by an app.

Thank you for reading. Be well, and in all things, Choose Human.

Love, Linda

To read the other post in this newsletter (the one with The Fuzz Speech, click here)