Is it a common occurrence for you to pay attention? How much of your day is spent in the here and now? When you add up the countless hours of television, mindless tasks, ruminating thoughts, and mind-filled wonderings, it can illuminate just how removed from reality our existences can be. We have replaced ritual and meaning with efficiency and tension (the primary factor in attraction and growth) with convenience. In 2015 Microsoft published a study on the attention span of the average American. It might surprise you to learn, says this study anyway, that the average attention span is only 3 seconds. What does this mean? It means that on average, every 3 seconds the human mind is bombarded with a distractor. Could this in part be due to this information age and the replacement of the sensory world?
The Harsh Reality of Our Psychological Desert
Our attention span is shrinking and our chronic distraction behavior ever increases. Distraction has become our oasis and the sensory world the harsh reality of our psychological desert. What can be done? For week 2 of Suicide and the Soul, I want to offer us a way into experience. Namely, the experience of the soul. We use this word often at Barn Life and it gets thrown around in religions, too. But what is the soul? In short, the soul is that which experiences. Soul can be defined as the convergence of the spirit and the material world. This can exist in the body, in the imagination, in the emotional terrain and in our stories. Why do we consider work with the soul to be the primary task in mental health? Soul, when sought after, produces movement into awareness where our truest most meaningful journey can take place.
Listening to the Still, Small Voice
Suicide and suicidal thinking can be understood as an act of the soul. This writing exercise will ask of you a bit more than 3 seconds, and distractions are sure to pry there way in. I want to encourage you to set aside some time for this practice. Stay open and return to the moment. Listen to the still, small voice beneath the noise and remain open to what it has to say. You may find what wants to be said strange or unclear. The secret to the exercise is flow and trust. Be vulnerable enough to go where the pen takes you as if a force beyond your mind’s eye wants to lead the way. Let go and stay with it.
Writing Down the Soul
The exercise is simple. Writing down the soul consists of setting aside a time to observe. To sit or walk or stand without distraction to notice, we allow the experience to enter in. This doesn’t have to take very long. Soon a sensation, physical object, a color, or memory can come to us. Giving attention and naming our experience is a movement from self-rejection to embracing the self as you are. This writing exercise is a way to get past the feeling that you have to fix it. Instead, writing what is as it occurs to you acknowledges the relationship with what comes in and what goes out. Here, with a free hand, we become present to the inner world through the outer world.
Writing to Regain Perspective
Naming our experiences helps to shape our perspective. I offer you a resounding assurance that the unconscious is patiently waiting for you. Through a playful opening to what reveals itself, no matter how trivial, the part that is curious in each of us that wants to live begins again. Writing in this way can help us to regain a perspective. Furthermore, should your pen take you to the worst in you and the harsh or despairing voice find its way to the paper, understand that this, too, connects us to healing and turns us toward the light. Another Stanford study showed that it is better to feel sadness than to feel nothing because to feel is to carry us forward. When feelings take form, it offers us a way forward – an expression that so desperately needs to get out.
Enter Into the Experience
In suicidal thinking often it is the big fantasy that dies. What we need is the experience and story of something smaller and more human. The soul is not gone, lost, or beyond our reach. What we must do is enter into the experience without grand expectations. Pick a place and put the phone down. Turn off the television and the easy consumption. Breathe and look around. What grabs your attention in this moment? Begin to write and relate. Whether the words make sense to you or not, the sharing of an honest moment holds great power. The soul gets to speak, and the experience gets to find meaning. I leave you this week with a poem by David Whyte that I feel captures how we can find meaning in the space around us as we open to the here and now.
Everything Is Waiting for You
Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice. You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to frighten you and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.
Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into the
conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you. –David Whyte