Friday, June 5, 2009

Against Franticness

There is something that's been bothering me. I've noticed it in recent years, but especially in the last year, and I have finally been able to put my finger on it. Perhaps this will not seem like a revelation to you, perhaps it will. Whatever it is, I think it's unhealthy, unproductive and causes needless suffering.

This thing that's been bothering me can best be described as a collective hyperventilation, a national franticness. (I know that's not a word, but I think it's clear what I mean.)

It's epitomized by the way people talk to each other: Not really listening, paying continuous partial attention, only hearing the words that will give them the jumping off point to say what they already know.

It's a literal rapidity of breathing and speech, a kind of anti-calm pervading conversation. It's the tenor of the television talking heads, constantly screaming.

It's the parents worrying that their kid is going to fall behind if he's not enrolled in preschool math tutoring, or the daughter who won't get into college if she doesn't excel at volleyball and academics and community service, and...the list goes on.

It's the colleagues who have heard of this Twitter thing, and worry that if they don't instantly jump on board, regardless of the value, they will lose their jobs, their employability--their very souls, it would seem, given some of the strident proclamations I've heard on the subject.

We're told, of course, that these things are necessary, that they make us more productive, more connected, more intelligent, more successful. But all I see is that the opposite is happening. I am no Luddite--I'm blogging, after all--and I don't blame technology for all of this. Technology is merely allowing our neuroses and fears to grow and be transmitted faster than ever, adding to the cacophony.

If everyone with an iPhone or Twitter account was calm and centered and at peace, those tools would serve some amazing thoughts, I'm sure. However, the majority of people I encounter are barely breathing, certainly afraid, and in a near-constant manic state.

If a body's health is measured by its ability to breathe deeply and maintain a calm heartbeat and a steady blood pressure, then our national body is profoundly sick.

Lately, for many reasons which I won't go into here, I find that I'm disengaging from this mass panic. I just don't buy it. I don't feel a part of it. I went running with my dog the other day, and enjoyed the cool morning air, still full of dew, enjoyed the wind rustling the pecan trees, loved watching my dog's pink tongue flop around as she ran. The world, despite its troubles, is still a profoundly beautiful place, if we only make up our minds to notice it.

I sometimes wonder what the world would be like if people stopped trying to fix everything, stopped focusing on the drama and the pain of other people, and worked on creating peace and calm and focus within themselves. Then, when others truly did need you, you'd be able to help, you'd know what to do, how to listen, what you should do. You'd have inner resources upon which to draw.

None of these frantic people have any inner resources. All energies are being discharged outward, but in an undirected way. The energy and reserves are misapplied, wasted, lost.

My point, if I have one, and I'm not sure I do, is that I'm coming to the conclusion that the best thing I can do for myself, others, the world, is to be a person who is at root calm and peaceful. Someone whose mind is unclouded by the turbidity of rapid, fearful, undirected thoughts. The second best thing I can do is to help others figure out how to do this, when they ask.

I am ever more certain that being frantic is the worst possible course of action, in any circumstance.

The next time you find yourself noticing a rising sense of franticness, please stop and breathe, deeply. For as long as you need to, until that feeling of terror leaves your body and is replaced by a quiet calm. Then proceed with what you have to do. Then you will do what is right.

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