Many forces compete for our attention. I know I am not the only one exhausted by ultra-capitalist tools to alter reality. I am most susceptible by social media and ever spinning ‘doomsday’ news cycles. My addiction to them is debilitating. But unplugging from it all is not so easy for us millennials. How I wish it was. Where and how can anyone connect in a world that relies on social media? Will not cutting off facebook, twitter, and instagram for good, cut me out of society? How would I know of local events? Do other people actually know their neighbors? So unless I am at some communal fellowship; church, work, or event of common interest, I am completely superficial when meeting new people. I will probably never ask a complete stranger anything about their lives. Cause what if they ask me about mine? That thought alone is frightening. I don’t even know who I am. We are a generation distracted from knowing ourselves. It is lonely.
I believe social media destroyed the fabric of community. I hear about it all the time. All of us can relate to speaking to those living a generation or two before us. They talk about how interactions between people were deliberate. Premeditated. Can you imagine that? When you had something to say; you called a specific person. You had your say and walked away. There was no burden to make superficial general statements online, so not to upset anyone. They talked to one person at a time; we talk to hundreds at a time. The ramifications of our generation is we have no sense of community. Yet we are connected to each other more than ever. Our grandparents generation never had the burden of context. We worry all the time if something we say will be taken wrong. This can’t be healthy. I have tried many times to step away. But I hate being alone. I already suffer bouts of depression. Losing online connection is unfathomable. Because even though it is harmful, superficial, and honestly unreal; it is all many of us have. I confess I have few real friends and none within five hundred miles. It is no easy thing to write, I am a loser.
But there must be something I can do.
I decided if I can’t pull my attention away from these anthemic forces vying for attention; I would compete them out. That is to say, I would find something ‘productive’ to replace them. The plan is to distract myself into something new. I wanted a new habit that would enrich my life. Something in addition to my writing. I chose nature.
Let me tell you how crazy this idea has been. I know nothing of nature. Absolutely nothing! I cannot name more than three types of trees on earth. When I first stepped into that other realm; the forest, I found myself lost. Everything was fuzzy. Eerily quiet. Often I mistook a scurrying chipmunk as a terrifying predator. I laugh about that now. It still happens time-to-time. But I kept returning to the quiet realm of trees, birds, fungus, etcetera. I had made a discovery. One in which would make Henry David Thoreau proud. The forest is anything but still and quiet. How did I ever feel alone there? It took time to render myself noticing things around me. Under almost any canopy of trees is a cacophony of songs sung. An ever evolving orchestra. What use to be only mud and rock; the earthen floor was now a freeway of sentient traversing. In time I came to distinguish between types of birds and plants. I have not yet learned all their types. But I notice them now. I wonder if anyone else notices just how loud the forest is? A living organic city. One where God is still mayor. Of course, without the app iNaturalist, I would not be able to tell you one plant from the next. But I am learning. Just like learning a new language; to learn the forest you must first learn her nouns.
Did that do it then? Have I dropped social media? No, not completely. But I use it a lot less. Will-power didn’t work for me. How could it? But the art of noticing things helps. I still know next to nothing. Despite that, I have heard the song only the wind carries. A melody of a bigger life. Her lyrics permeate through me a sense of higher purpose. I am convinced all the wisdom needed in life can be obtained by sitting in the woods. There I am not alone. But connected to something higher and deeper than the material world’s urgency. What has humanity lost in a world built on screens and concrete? My answer; soul.
Please let me know if you have had a similar experience.
Derry, New Hampshire was the longtime home of Robert Frost. This poem is in dedication to my favorite poetry book: North of Boston, and his poem October.
Peace matters more than being right. In life, there are some seasons when we have to love some people from a distance, but remember we still have to love.
Trust me…, stopping and noticing the details around you is life’s most generative experience, not only will your writing improve, but so will your mental health.