I recently watched a PBS special entitled “The Human Spark.” Alan Alda takes a look at what separates us from the animals, what makes us human. The documentary was full of interesting ideas and studies, especially studies of small babies and what they seem to be born knowing. I recommend it to anyone and you can view the special at PBS.org.
What struck me most from this hour of studies was an MRI test that Alda volunteered for. The specialists had him lie in the MRI machine and look at words on a screen that he was told to classify. Between words, there was only a cross hair mark on the screen. He was instructed to concentrate on the cross-hairs between words. As is often the case with the studies, what he was told to do is not the part they were actually studying. They were looking for the activity in his brain during the time he focused on the cross-hairs and let his mind wander. According to the psychologists, this is the time that all volunteers have the most activity light up in their brains.
This is why you are often inspired in the shower or in the car. When your brain is free from input, it has the greatest capacity for output. This is amazing and alarming. Given the nature of our society, this could mean the end of all creativity and inspiration. Think back on your day today. How much time did you spend without some kind of input directed to your already busy brain? Your phone, TV, computer, iPod, people, children….the list goes on and on. I know I crave input. I’m not one of those people who love to get away and be alone. The more people the better, the more activity, the better.
The end result for me has been several weeks of writer’s block and the dull feeling that comes when you are missing the creative spark in your life. I now realize the root of the problem and I know my soul needs tending. As a mother, I look at my children and make sure their lives have plenty of downtime for their creativity to shine through. Over-scheduled children are sad to see. They go through the motions in this life, from one activity to another, and never get to develop their own personalities to the fullest.
Constant input is also bad for the communication level in the home. If you can’t talk during a show or movie or while the headphones are in or while you are typing or on the phone, what time does that leave for talking? Even the most trivial bits of information are lost in our house because everyone’s ears are previously engaged. I have asked my kids to use only one ear phone from their iPods while they move through the house, to ensure that they stay involved and in touch with everyone. We are trying to remember that almost all devices have some sort of pause button that can delay the trivial in favor of the most important part of our lives – people.
Does your soul need some downtime for tending? Quiet for the soul is spoken of in religions around the world and in doctors’ offices too, no doubt. People are constantly encouraged to do things for themselves to keep their sanity. I am encouraging you to do a little nothing for yourselves each day. Make sure your kids have plenty of nothing too.