Today we ask that you minimize distraction.

Minimize distraction.

Modern humans exist in a reality defined by constant distraction.  Never in history have humans been so distracted.

Consider the majority of human history.  Until recently, in the greater scheme of things, humans did not have access to electricity.

Think about this.  No electricity.  Your days are defined by the rising and setting sun, by the seasons, the waxing and waning of the moon.  At night you see by candlelight, by torch, by fire.

Your entertainment is restricted to what can be performed by other humans in your presence: storytelling, playacting, theater, music.  Or else you read what’s written on paper — or, earlier, what’s on clay, or what’s on the walls.

Imagine what it would be like if you were plunged into a world without computers, phones, and televisions.  Without cars and subways and planes.  Without electric light.  Messages must be written on paper, sent by messenger — on horseback, by boat.  

Most modern people would go into withdrawal — for of course modern devices and distractions are not only convenient, they are highly addictive.  The silence would be overwhelming, threatening.

But after a while people would feel more peaceful and relaxed.  Modern life, with all its toys and distractions, its bright screens and chiming noises and instant messages, is very hard on the human nervous system.  Remember that the human nervous system evolved in a world without electricity.

The human nervous system is a finely tuned instrument, exquisitely sensitive to stimuli.  Modern devices and distractions have a way of “blowing out” the human nervous system — the way your hearing is blown out after sitting through a loud rock concert.  Imagine if your whole life was spent at a loud rock concert.  Your hearing would be dulled, damaged.  You’d go deaf.

That is the predicament many modern humans are in.  Because external stimuli is so loud, so blaring — human nervous systems have essentially “gone deaf.”  This is both painful — like the ringing in the ears after a loud rock concert — and desensitizing.

The answer is simple, yet difficult for many people to implement.

Minimize distraction.  Reduce external stimulation.

In an ideal world, all people would spend time in “retreat” every year.  Just as health-oriented individuals sometimes go on a fast or juice diet to give their digestive systems a rest, people would go on a fast from electronic devices to give their nervous systems a rest.  People might go to the woods, or the countryside.  No phones, no computers, no televisions. Minimal distraction.  Many mental and physical issues would be healed in this way.

For many, this is not practical.  Yet it is important to be aware that a life of constant distraction and stimulation takes a toll on one’s health and well-being.

There are some simple steps one can take.

It is good to spend time outdoors, with electronic devices shut off, or at least silenced.  It is good to take time every day to see the sky and the trees.

It is good to carve out distraction-free time.  Some people have reclaimed the Biblical concept of the Sabbath, instituting a day of rest from the burden of constant distraction, turning off electronic devices for the duration of the day.  This is very wise.

Some people make their meal times or dinner tables free from electronic devices, reclaiming the time for basic human connection and conversation.

Parents are wise to make their time with their children distraction-free, especially if they work and are often away their children.  But even a stay-at-home parent would be wise to minimize electronic distraction when in the presence of a child.

It is good to put boundaries around distraction.  To set a timer when you surf the internet or look at social media.  To place healthy filters around what you take into your consciousness, and when.

Imagine two laboratory rats tasked with finding a piece of cheese hidden in a maze.

One rat just has to find the cheese.

The other rat has to find the cheese, but also has loud noises blaring in its ears, and bright lights flashed in its eyes.

Which rat do you think finds the cheese?  And which rat is more stressed out?  

So: if you wish to accomplish your goals, and reduce stress — do whatever you can to minimize distraction.