I consider myself an extrovert, but I absolutely hate parties. The combination of the commotion and the multiple conversations and the music are a bit of a sensory overload for a person with ADHD. I find myself unable to filter the numerous inputs that come into my head, and I end up not being able to focus on anything because I can hear and smell and see everything. It all blurs into one cacophony.
While this experience is, as far as I know, pretty much limited to people on the spectrum or with ADHD, it seems to me that more and more of my friends are suffering from sensory overload. In the city, it can be impossible to get away from noise pollution, and with long commutes and long hours grinding it out in such a competitive job market, many people find that they just don’t have the time or energy to de-clutter their space. If you live in a small apartment like me, our cultural drive to consume quickly results in having too much stuff. We are constantly surrounded by clutter and chaos.
And if you are forced to multitask at work, I have some bad news. According to Professor Daniel J. Levitin, “Multitasking has been found to increase the production of the stress hormone cortisol as well as the fight-or-flight hormone adrenaline, which can overstimulate your brain and cause mental fog or scrambled thinking.” Trying to handle the multiple inputs only makes us less able to do so.
And the input never really goes away. So many of us use our phones to check our emails for work. And I have to check every social media notification as it comes in. I even sleep with my phone. I never escape it.
This is one of the reasons that I have so enjoyed simple church over my first two months in the service. At least once a week, I find time in the midst of chaos to de-clutter my mind. To find stillness. Peace.
For a moment, I can disconnect from my online world, forget about everything that’s on my to-do list, and sit in a quiet and beautiful space with few distractions. I can focus on just one thing–a scripture, a word, an image, or even just my breath–and let everything else fade away.
Now, we don’t assign or guide spiritual practices during the service; we encourage each person to connect in whatever way works best for them. But in case, you are new to spiritual practice and aren’t sure what to do with times of silence, let me suggest a good beginners practice that you can do in the service or from home.
- Sit in a comfortable position.
- Draw your attention to your diaphragm rising and falling with the natural movement of your breathing. As you do this, silently name your intention: I will keep my attention focused on the movement of my breathing.
- Whenever you notice that you are not focused on the movement of your breathing, remind yourself of your intention.
- Turn your attention back to the movement of your breathing.
It’s difficult, and sometimes my attention fails–especially when I have a leadership role in the service–but I have experienced such positivity and grace in the space that I’m always able to let go of self-judgement and to return my attention to its appropriate place.
Dr. Andrew Dreitcer, from whom the exercise was taken, says that this exercise helps build foundational spiritual capabilities, which “establish a base, a foundation on which to build compassion” for self and others. It helps to bring us into the moment, away from the chaos of normal life. It helps us to refocus and heal the brain, and makes us more resilient to everyday stresses.
So as life becomes more and more chaotic, I remember the invitation from the hymn that we sung this week:
Come and find the quiet center in the crowded life we lead, Find the room for hope to enter, find the frame where we are freed: Clear the chaos and the clutter, clear our eyes that we can see All the things that really matter, be at peace, and simply be.
Have you tried this exercise before? What do you do to focus your mind? Let us know in the comments so that we can learn from the experiences of one another!