Learn to be still…

…written by Don Henley and Stan Lynch and sung by Eagles bassist Tim Schmidt, has to be one of the best songs of all time. You know how much I love good lyrics and it doesn’t get much better than this:

We are like sheep without a shepherd
We don’t know how to be alone
So we wander ’round this desert
And wind up following the wrong gods home
But the flock cries out for another
And they keep answering that bell
And one more starry-eyed messiah
Meets a violent farewell-
Learn to be still

And this song immediately thrust itself into my consciousness upon reading a New York Times Article covering a Journal of Science study measuring just how far Americans will go to avoid introspection.

eaglesWe’ve talked about that phenomenon here in tangential terms – mostly in regards to my frequent bewilderment at local politicians who consistently fail to see their own reflection in the mirror. Vampirism would explain a lot of it, but then the sunlight seems to have no effect on ‘em either.

The thing is, these shallow creatures don’t suddenly appear out of nowhere to take the reins of power and start sucking our political blood. We actually elect them because they’re a perfect reflection of our own capacity to avoid any internal dialogue like the plague.

That’s why I found this study so fascinating

“We had noted how wedded to our devices we all seem to be and that people seem to find any excuse they can to keep busy,” University of Virginia professor and lead study author Timothy Wilson said, “No one had done a simple study letting people go off on their own and think.”

The study consisted of 11 separate experiments and more than 700 subjects and the end result was the vast majority of participants found it distressing, disconcerting and difficult to be alone in a room for just a short 6 to 15 minutes.

In fact, when left alone with just their thoughts, after saying they’d pay money to avoid ‘em, 65 percent of men and 15 percent of women began administering self-inflicted electric shocks to avoid having to endure any self-examination.

The NYT article author further posits that it’s the negative nature of this kind of contemplation that feeds the drive to keep us busy at all costs right down to risking our lives by texting in the car.

Left to our own devices, we tend to think about bad relationships, money problems and our own failures in general. In a culture where every beer commercial insists you have to be “up” and happy all the time, that prospect utterly terrifies us. This is why the national case of ADHD, of which I frequently speak, has become an addiction. And that’s why that Eagle’s song popped into my head.

I want to be clear that we’re not talking about the repetitive parent borne critical voices that regularly besiege some of us, but more of a quiet central sadness that begs for the rectification of a part of our lives that’s gone down the wrong track.

The problem is, when we do everything within our power to stay busy and ignore these negative thoughts, they become that much more powerful and put us at risk for depression, asthma, obsessive-compulsive disorders, insomnia, drug and alcohol addiction, migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, and all sorts of skin conditions.

Think about what we’re doing to and teaching our children in this regard. They are so over-scheduled that they never have a quiet second which does not bode well for their – or our – future.

But what’s even worse is, a number of similar studies concluded that, by disowning ourselves in this manner, we lose the capacity to empathize with others and proceed to project our shortcomings on that nebulous “they.” Take some time to think about the current political debate and tell me if that doesn’t sound far too familiar?

On the other hand, similar researchers and Zen Buddhists have been extolling the virtue of an unburdened mind for quite some time. Contemplation fosters creativity. Think about how Newton, Einstein and Galileo all came up with earth shattering discoveries while virtually in a meditative state.

There certainly is a boatload of wisdom in rock and roll my friends! So perhaps the solution to our current political gridlock is a collective time out. Considering where we seem to be headed, it certainly couldn’t hurt because ain’t no one gonna save us from ourselves.

Learn to be still.

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