Mental Minimalism 1
Limiting the Influx of Bad to Cultivate Good
Many people have a problem with digital minimalism. Me too. I often intend to change my unhelpful digital habits, but real change has not yet settled in. The problem is that I open my phone and look at the news when I have nothing to do and when it is quiet around me. Rather than allowing my mind to be filled with wide open spaces for dreams, thoughts, reflection and peaceful quiet, I decide to let the openness and the freedom in my mind be filled with today's and yesterday's news, filling my mind with (inter)national trauma that is not my own. I fill my mind with things that I cannot change. I fill my mind with things that I cannot undo. I fill my mind with things that I cannot control. When I have saturated my mind with second-hand trauma, I close my phone, not realizing that I have just become a little bit sad, a little bit more calloused, and a little bit more saturated with the pain that was not mine to carry.
Negativity gobbled up my brain space
One of my friends had been watching me for a while and saw the impact of the short, negative information supply to my brain. He saw how slowly, negative information and negative voices received a special place inside of my brain and pushed out inner peace and stability. There were two problems. The first one being, that my brain was filling with stressors and difficulties that I had fished up from the web. By the end of the day, I no more strength left to fight the battles I had to fight. The second problem was that what was in my brain became a filter through which I started to see the world around me. Being used to negative and down-pulling voices, I started to give a megaphone to bad voices and circumstances around me. I saw more misery in the world than that I saw beauty and blessing. And I become increasingly down, slowly, slowly... but surely. One day, my friend had it and said "Jo!" (he was shouting a little). "Why do you give a voice to harsh and negative voices around you and you squelch the good and the peaceful ones?" My friend had observed how my habits of internalizing all kinds of stressors around me had led to a dysfunctional organization of my mental space. He knew that whatever was going on in my mind, it wasn't that pretty.
Is my behavior of taking in the global news sinful? I think that it is.
Our hearts were not built for large-scale second-hand trauma. It is true that Jesus said that what someone takes in does not defile him or her, but what goes out (Mark 7:15). But the truth is, what goes into our heart is way too much for us to handle. Our hearts and our minds are not capable of dealing with information overload. We were simply not created that way. We don't have the capacity of omnipotence like God does.
When we as human beings receive too much second-hand trauma, our brain can react in two different ways. We either harden and become calloused, with as result that we stop caring. Or, we become depressed, down and tired from trying to process pain and sorrow that God did not intend for us to carry. Neither of these is helpful to a joyful Christian life.
We neglect what really matters (God, our neighbors, and ourselves) by escaping into "not-my-problem" issues. The fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, friendliness, goodness, faithfulness, kindness, and self-control. If I read the news and learn to emotionally distance myself from the impact thereof, do I cultivate love in me? I don't think that I do. Do I cultivate joy with distant second-hand trauma? Certainly not. Do I cultivate peace? The opposite. Patience? I don't see how. Friendliness? I don't see how. Goodness?... No...
Ignorance or Priorities?
"But..." you could say, "ignorance is wrong." I believe that ignorance is wrong when we ignore the responsibilities in our spheres. I have learned in life that being occupied with distant things, sins in others, and problems that don't really affect me, are an escape to ignore what is right inside of me and what is right in front of me. Let us be honest. Do we really, sincerely care deeply about the pain and the hurt and the injustice that is happening on the other side of the globe? And if we do care about what goes on, and we have a sincere desire to change the world for good, should we not start caring about what is happening in our family, our apartment building, our street, and our town?
Perhaps if we stop saturating our mind with an overload of far-away trauma, we would heal nearby-trauma and heal our own trauma. The first step is creating space in our mind to do so and to stop the saturation with information from afar.
What if, when I have a moment of rest, I do not grab my phone but I just stare in the distance and ponder about how God has been kind to me that day. How I could have acted or spoken better that day. Whether my neighbor needs my help today. I would cultivate love for God. I would cultivate practical, active love for the other. I would cultivate joy with what God has given me. I cultivate peace when I meditate and pray over the day in a way that the stress thereof leaves me.
Healing the world starts with ourselves
Rather than using my brain space for soaking in second-hand trauma, I use my brain space for the healing from first-hand trauma. And I grow.
Healing the world extends to our neighbor
It is time that we start helping the healing of our neighbor in a sincerely involved way. That means that rather than caring a tiny little bit about one million things, we start to care a lot for the few things close to us. If we all do that, a big snowball effect will take place and all the problems of the world will become solved.
God did not ask us to carry the weight of the world. God asked us to bear the burdens of our brothers and sisters. Sometimes we are so busy with the burdens of the world, that we have no more shoulder-space left for the one next to us.