Just Saying: Turn Off, Tune Out, Drop Data… The Art of Re-sensitizing

BY SHELLEY WILDGEN

“No phone, no tel-e-phone!” she over-enunciated.

“Maybe a bit of phone?” I pleaded.

“Absolutely none.”

Twenty years ago, I remember a conversation where my friend at the other end of the phone had become exhausted from listening to me talk about my exhaustion, so she interrupted my monotonous diatribe and ordered me a verbal phone-free prescription. Steadfast and very specific, my forever friend, Jamie, nailed it. Why she hadn’t provided this advice a decade or so sooner, I’ll never know, but I suspect these were her big guns. She only pulled them out when she could not possibly listen to one more of my drama-riddled anecdotes.

I should start by saying that the source of this particular world-weary complaint was me and my life – you know, for a change. Two kids, two cats, three jobs, three bosses, a passel of friends, two relationships – hey, don’t judge – it was the nineties and even the self-imposed pressure was real. Annnnyyyyywaaaaay, it was a lot and I didn’t seem to be acquiring traction with any of it.

When Jamie finally had a minute to interject, the first thing that I remember her asking me was “had I spent any time outdoors lately?” Well, no. Car to building and back again was about it. I was going to the gym, watching my kids ride horses and play hockey, but she said that didn’t count.

“Fresh air up your nose for an extended period of time kind of outside,” she clarified. It was true. As active as my world was, my air quality wasn’t great. She then went on to tell me that my body, my soul, my very essence was crying out for sensitizing … and all five senses had to rise up together.

Interesting. Senses. Those life giving parts of ourselves that we seldom think about unless we’re missing one. The trouble here was that mine were all installed perfectly, but hadn’t been exercised properly, so my stress life was bubbling over. In order to re-align my world, I had to have a solitary, unplugged weekend. But it didn’t stop there. Alone time was good, but to activate all senses she informed that that I would have to use them, so my prescription from her went like this:

Two full days. No phone, no computer, no grown-ups. Kids stay at their dad’s. Scented candles burning, a roast and/or homemade soup cooking on the stove, rent the movie ‘Another Stakeout’ (it was the nineties, ‘member?), and play good music. Find a forest where you can touch lots of tree bark, grass and take a dog even if you have to borrow one. … Oh, and no showering this weekend; just hot baths – and a good stash of favourite junk food at the ready. That was it. Get it? All senses got a good co-mingling workout and the junk food was a bonus prize.

The point was that this solo time did not involve any real thinking, so my senses had time to re-emerge with the comforting smells, cozy sights, feel of nature, favourite tastes and the only listening would be musical and/or lighthearted comedy. I remember objecting to the movie, but she was very specific and … it applied beautifully!

So this was a tremendous piece of advice, and it was magical in how it helped me be better at everything for a long time after that two day prescription had been filled and felt. The thing is that this two day prescription was filled twenty years ago when online living was a very small part of our lives. A bit of email here and there — that was about it, but life still had a way of desensitizing us just the same. Fast forward to the busyness of today and Jamie’s prescription is needed that much more. We have all the time in the world for screen-time, real-time, face-time, but disallow ourselves packets of time which would be well-used as opportunities to re-sensitize our senses.

Our digital culture has usurped so much of our ability to truly relax that even vacation spots are recognizing the need and incorporating sense stimuli into their marketing. Recently, I read an ad (online, of course) for a cruise ship vacation. Its’ main features included a 3-storey transformative space that ‘infuses delectable cuisine with sensory elements of nature’ and the picture beside it was a sunny dining room with plants growing on the walls. I recently noticed that Loyalist College has a student lounge that has incorporated a living wall of plants and that the air really does seem better there. Smart, smart, smart.

So, if we know better, why don’t we do better? The other day Facebook went down for a while and it was rumoured that users were out on the streets openly weeping, showing photos to passersby and asking them if they liked them. Ridiculous. Of course it is, but not too far from where we’ve landed with our faces pressed to screens on phones that we use for everything except phoning. Talking is so pedestrian.

We’ve all read that Bernard Meltzer quote, a brainy and brilliant meme that regularly makes the internet rounds: “Before you speak ask yourself if what you are going to say is true, is kind, is necessary, is helpful. If the answer is no, maybe what you are about to say should be left unsaid.” What if we turned that message on to its side to read: “Before you relax, ask yourself if what you are about to do will involve the senses of sight, smell, touch, hearing and taste? If the answer is no, then maybe the screen you are about to turn on should be left off.” … but just for two days.

It’s a sensible start.