Spooked

Everywhere I look, there seems to be a desperate lack of calm.

When did everybody become so tense/uptight/frazzled/frantic? Why the rapidly-mutating lack of tranquility? How did our collective stress level reach such dizzying heights?

We recite mantras like magic words:

Keep calm and carry on.

Too blessed to be stressed.

Just breathe.

But the knee-jerk reaction to anything unexpected, out-of-the-ordinary or beyond our comfort zone seems to be…

Panic!

(At the disco. Or anyplace else we happen to be.)

Even when all seems well, undetected stress simmering beneath the surface threatens to bubble over. Mild irritation turns to minor frustration… which becomes moderate agitation… which morphs into major aggravation…

Which inevitably spirals into a monstrous meltdown.

(Sometimes in a matter of minutes.)

Just watch the nightly news, and you’ll get a sneaking suspicion that our country is coming untethered; our communities are coming unhinged; families are coming unraveled… and people are coming unglued.

A smattering of this week’s headlines includes criminal sexual assaults, opiod overdoses, active shooters, adolescent suicides and road rage incidents. Scary, huh?

Mental health crises are commonplace. Depression is sharply on the rise. Anxiety is pandemic. And researchers are assigning some of the blame on the poison…

In the palm of our hands.

(And our children’s.)

One internet safety specialist wrote a book specifically addressing the pitfalls of smart-phones-for-all. It’s title? The Boogeyman Exists: And He’s in Your Child’s Back Pocket.

Spooked yet?

A former assistant to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was quoted in the New York Times as saying, “I am convinced the devil lives in our phones and is wreaking havoc…”

Hmmm…

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying smartphones are altogether terrible/awful/evil. (I’m also not saying that handheld devices cause chemical imbalances. Of course not.)

I’m simply saying this:

Fingertip tech is – like so many other things – a blessing and a curse.

It’s a useful device and a terrible distraction. It connects us… and isolates us.

It gives us directions… and causes us to lose our bearings, somehow.

It gives us a sense of control… and makes us digital addicts.

Every-waking-hour data druggies.

(And sometimes when we’re trying to sleep too.)

Ding.

Buzz.

Zzzzz…

The truth is, most of us rarely unplug or power off. (Heck, we bristle at having to switch to “airplane mode” for a couple hours.)

*gut check*

We spend our days “drinking from a firehose” of digital data. Our brains are besieged by constantly-streaming information, ideas, images.

So.

Much.

Input.

The deluge of information in modern times by the media and other information sources has led to daily “bombing” of the average human brain with such a large volume of information which could overload even a powerful computer, according to information scientists. (Source: Tech 21 Century)

A study done by researchers at UCSD found that Americans took in five times as much information every day as they did in 1986 – the equivalent of 174 newspapers. During our leisure time, not counting work, each of us processes 34 gigabytes, or 100,000 words every day.  The world’s 21,274 television stations produce 85,000 hours of original programming every day, and on average, we watch five hours of television daily, the equivalent of 20 gigabytes of audio-video images. That’s not counting YouTube, which uploads 6,000 hours of video every hour. And computer gaming? It consumes more bytes than all other media combined including DVDs, TV, books, magazines, and the Internet. (Source: Telegraph UK)

I find these numbers astonishing. And a little unsettling.

But the really crazy thing?

This study was done 10 years ago. I’m guessing we far exceed those numbers in 2019.

And I can’t imagine it’s good for our brains. (My head hurts just thinking about this.)

So much media. So many messages. Some informative, some inflammatory. Some uplifting, some devastating. Some delightful, some dreaded.

Alerts come 24/7/365.

Some are smiley-face-heart-eyes-confetti-and-cake happy texts. Birthday messages and pizza promo codes and cute puppy videos.

(But then you throw in the can-of-worms commonly known as social media. The running commentary on FB/Twitter/Insta definitely doesn’t offer much insight. It mostly just incites. If you’re looking for a heaping dose of harsh criticism, complaints or judgment, you’ve come to the right place. Public humiliation… available to all… in the comfort of your own car/cubicle/condo. We’ve all been forewarned about the bad boys, mean girls, cyberbullies and predators. But what we’ve done – unwittingly, of course – is invited them into our daily conversation. Oh joy.)

Then there’s the garden-variety hassles. Notifications about bad grades, late fees, product recalls, cancelled meetings.

Most of us file these notifications right where they belong: the trash bin.

*delete*

*delete*

*delete*

But others strike fear in our hearts:

Biopsy results… Emergency alerts… Subpoenas.

Our constant connectivity is creating a sense of urgency (and yes, anxiety) that we struggle to shake.

Ding.

Buzz.

Gasp!

And in an effort to minimize our panic… some of us just completely disengage. We scroll, sigh, shrug. We watch from the sidelines and remain uninvested and uninvolved.

Are those the only options?

Perpetually panicked or utterly apathetic?

Sunday (and M/T/W/Th/F/Sa) Scaries… or Zombie Apocalypse?

(Cue the eerie sound effects… and the wicked laugh: Mwahahaha!)

Maybe this is a nightmare.

STAY WOKE, PEOPLE.

Put the freaking phone down.

Listen. Engage. Respond. Relate. Face-to-face… in real time.

Get your groove back.

(And your LIFE too.)

In the words of the uncannily clever Anne Lamott:

Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes… even you.

Power off and power nap. There’s a handy little setting on your phone:

Do not disturb.

(Perhaps you haven’t discovered it yet. Well, today’s your lucky – lifechanging! – day.)

Activate that sucker.

Or  better yet…

Unplug altogether.

Quiet the clamor and soak up some stillness.

There’s a powerful scripture that begins with two little words.

Be still.

It’s not a friendly suggestion or self-help step. It’s an explicit instruction from your Maker.

Be still…

(There’s more. It’s a two-part directive… feel free to keep reading: Psalm 46.)

Be still…

Linger there awhile. It’ll do your body, mind and spirit good.

Be still.

Do you hear that? It’s the rare, sweet sound of silence.

Do you sense it? Peace.

Soak it up, friends.

All will be well.

Wendy

P.S. Thanks for reading. Now… unplug, for heaven’s sake.

 

Vitamin Sea

*Isak Dinesen was right.

The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea.

I recently tested this theory, and the results were positively conclusive.

A tough workout, a good cry, a long soak in the sea… Chances are, one’s the remedy for what ails you (and me).

(Given the choice, I’ll take the beach. But you Crossfit freaks… You do you.)

There’s just something about the sea. It’s at once soothing and spellbinding. Its beauty hypnotizes and heals. Tides rise and fall, and the waves change color with the changing skies. The surface is windswept, wild. The ocean roars, unleashing its fury… and then, after a time, it’s lulled once again into reverent calm.

Dazzling like diamonds.

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Below the surface, the sea teems with the most exotic creatures: sea urchins and sea turtles, anemones and octopi, oysters and eels, jellyfish and starfish and humpbacks and hammerheads. Fish shaped like lions and horses and spiders and bats. . . and patterned like leopards and tigers and zebras. Oh my!

Common Lionfish (Pterois volitans) swimming over reef, 20 feet deep, Red Sea

(In case anyone’s wondering, snorkeling in Belize is indeed on my bucket list. And I’d gladly travel this afternoon, since we’re currently enduring subzero temperatures and dangerous wind chills in the Midwest. And – adding insult to injury – we just got a fresh dump of snow. Anybody want to share their miles? Anyone? Buehler?)

Nearly anywhere in the world, a walk along the seashore will bestow exquisite gifts.

Reverie.

Reflection.

Rumination.

Revelation.

Our hopes crest and crash like waves, only to rise again… lifted by some hidden grace.

The water beckons and few can resist. We wade in, stepping gingerly, tasting sea spray.

Out of the blue, a rogue wave tosses us headlong. We scramble to find our footing, regain balance, break the surface… breathe.

And occasionally we get stung. (Who knew there was something lurking beneath the surface, tentacles laced with poison?)

The sea mirrors life itself…

Ebb and flow. Tumult and tranquility.

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It whispers its backstory.

A Spirit hovers. The waters obey. They are drawn, poured, gathered, stilled.

Vibrant with life. Voicing love divine.

Vast and deep.

Something about the sea summons wonder and worship.

Could we with ink the ocean fill
And were the skies of parchment made
Were every stalk on earth a quill
And every man a scribe by trade
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry
Nor could the scroll contain the whole
Though stretched from sky to sky…

(Lyrics from “The Love of God” by MercyMe.)

Yes, it’s true.

The breadth and beauty of the sea reflect a loving and brilliant Artist, Author, Botanist, Biologist, Chemist…Creator.

And may you be able to feel and understand, as all God’s children should, how long, how wide, how deep, and how high his love really is; and to experience this love for yourselves, though it is so great that you will never see the end of it or fully know or understand it.

And so at last you will be filled up with God himself.

~ Ephesians 3:18-19 (TLB)

The sea is magnificent and a little mysterious.  It is powerful, unpredictable, sublime and serene all at once.  It invites us to glimpse the glory of the One who first imagined it.

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In his book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis unveils Almighty God in the character of Aslan, the lion king of an otherworldly place called Narnia. A young girl named Lucy inquires about meeting Aslan but worries that he might not be safe, and a native Narnian responds this way:

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

God is good. Like the ocean He created. Good, but not always safe. Worthy of our fear and awe.  Alluring… and sometimes angry. Inviting us to great adventure and gifting us with hidden treasure. Breathtaking and captivating and utterly terrifying too. Full of countless secrets yet undiscovered.

The ocean beckons. Wander, wade, soak, splash. Stroll along the shore. Walk and talk with the One who cups the waters… and calms the storms.

Let the sea spray work wonders.

Let the Healer cure what ails you.

Let the skies proclaim God’s glory.

Stay salty, friends. (It’s good for you… body and soul.)

Wendy

P.S. If – like me – you’re presently suffering a miserably cold, dreary winter in some landlocked northern state, I highly recommend you take in the surfcam views of places like Perth, Portofino, Palawan, or Phuket. Click here or there to catch some waves. (You’re welcome.)

 

*Isak Dinesen is the pen name for Karen Blixen, who wrote (and lived) Out of Africa and Babette’s Feast. From now on, I will be using the pen name Vivienne Cross. Just FYI.