On the Computer, In My Body / Part Two

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As you read this article, how much of the rest of your surroundings are you tuning out?

One of the “body lessons” of ipods, cell phones, ipads and computers is an increase in our ability to tune out what’s going on around us in order to focus exclusively on the data coming to us through a small screen or earpiece. That’s an incredible skill – we’ve learned to be standing in the middle of a roaring subway, watching a little movie. We can be walking down a busy street, having a delicate conversation with someone on the other side of the country. In our own homes, we have developed the ability to filter out the voices of our family members in order to surf the net without distraction.

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Our capacity to be “undistracted” through tuning out environmental stimulus is one of the more controversial virtues of our era. Our bodies are designed to be forming a coherent impression of reality based on input coming in through all of our senses, including our skin. What happens to us when what we are hearing through our earpiece has nothing to do with what we are seeing through the windshield? What happens when the website we are exploring on our laptop has no relationship to what’s going on in the rest of the house? We are designed for wholeness and coherence, and when the rift between is too great for us to integrate into one body-felt sense of “what’s going on here,” tuning out is felt as a tremendous relief. When we cannot integrate diverse sensory streams into one conscious awareness, this is felt as a bodily distress that is resolved by choosing a singular point of “focus,” and allowing all other input to be ignored.

The ability to tune out our environment is not the same as the ability to focus. It is a distress response to sensory fragmentation. It takes us out of our body’s natural integration state, which is to have an ongoing ambient awareness of our surroundings at all times. Within that ambient awareness, we may choose to bring more of our awareness to some aspects of our environment than others. Driving a car in traffic is a perfect example – we need to be aware of everything in our environmental field, inside and outside of the car, and yet we are able to prioritize our awareness of traffic signals and other cars over the For Sale signs in store windows.

This is not at all the same as the sensory numbness that frequently overtakes us on a cell phone in a café, or even on the computer in our own homes. We have become practiced at tuning out our environment in favor of a technological data-stream. What is even worse, the habit of tuning out all but a narrow band of focus has, for many of us, become so practiced that we remain narrow-focused and numb to our bodily sense of full engagement with our surroundings even after hanging up the phone or turning off the computer.

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What’s going on around you as you read this article? Are you in your body? To what degree is each of us so adapted to sensory fragmentation that full-body awareness of ‘Here and Now’ no longer feels natural or even comfortable? To check this out for yourself, and to re-open your sensory integration capacity to full-body awareness, take a look at the next essay entitled “Indoor/Outdoor Body.”

Thea Elijah, Whole Heart Connection

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Photo credits: David Vespoli / Leif Harboe / flickr creative commons