The Dwindling Attention Span

Is it a common occurrence for you to pay attention? How much of your day is spent in the here and now? 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. Additionally, we have replaced 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 distractions bombard the human mind. Could this in part be due to this information age and the replacement of the sensory world? Additionally, the study measured the attention spans of other animals. What they found puts into radical perspective just how critical our declining capacity to experience has become. Want to know the average attention span of a goldfish? It’s 5 seconds! That’s right! Goldfish have better-sustained attention than we do. Something is seriously wrong!

And we wonder why the addiction rates are at an all-time high in this world? Our attention span is shortening and our chronic distraction behavior ever increases. It doesn’t take a psychologist to tell you that the mind can consume the heart, possess the moment, and replace desired experiences with hauntings, fears, anxieties, and more.  Distraction has become our oasis and the sensory world the harshing realities of our psychological deserts. What can be done?

Part 2 of Suicide and the Soul

For part 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. We can define Soul 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.

Suicide and suicidal thinking can be understood as an act of the soul. This week I want to simply offer us a way to move through our deepest and most frigid, a way to find beauty, and a way to learn how to pay attention without drowning in despair. This will ask of you a bit more than 3 seconds, and distractions are sure to pry their way in. I want to encourage you to set aside some time for this practice, to stay open and return to the moment, to attend to the still small voice beneath the noise, and remain open to what it has to say. 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.

Getting It Down Without Judgment

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. This way, we allow the experience to enter in. This doesn’t have to take very long. In fact, 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 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 between what comes in and what goes out. Here, with a free hand, we become present to the inner world through the outer world.

In suicidal thinking often what has died is the big fantasy. Furthermore, what we need is the experience and story of something smaller and more human.  The soul is not gone, not lost, not beyond our reach. What we must do is enter in to the experience without grand expectations. I encourage you to take the time to write today. Don’t be shy and don’t neglect yourself. Take 5 minutes alone today with pen and paper. Pick a place and put the phone down. Breathe, look around, what grabs the attention of your eyes in this moment? Begin to write and relate. Whether they 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. If you are starving for movement, this is one way we shake up the despair.