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Information and Numbness

In Jerry’s piece from Tuesday, he spoke of our propensity to meet information without feeling it. He said, "When we stop feeling, the area between right and wrong becomes fuzzy. We can be manipulated by the images we see and the things we hear. It’s truly hard to stay centered and feel the truth." There’s a reason we don’t feel the information we experience: we are inundated with information that is directly harmful to us if we let it in.

While I was in New Mexico visiting family, I came across a story in the A-section of the Albuquerque Journal with a dateline from somewhere in Oregon headlined, "Man Holding Human Head Stabs Clerk."

I’m not going to ask you to connect with your center and discover how you feel upon reading this headline. In this instance, I’d prefer that you respond intellectually. Notice that this story has no informational value to you at all. Unless you have some kind of direct connection to what happened–you are on the police force in that town in Oregon, or you know someone involved–there is nothing whatsoever that you can do with this information.

It would be wrong to say that this story’s value is zero. It’s actually worse than that. It’s value is negative, because if you allow a story like this access to your feeling self, it will harm you. The events the story tells of are essentially random. They happened far away from where you live. The horror we feel–or, more likely, recognize that we should feel, without actually feeling–comes from the essential rarity of events like this. However, we evolved in a world in which all information was immediate–someone telling us, "Watch out! There’s a lion over there!"–and our processing systems, both intellectual and energetic, are still rooted in that world. So stories like this, when allowed into the feeling body, are actually a form of poison. They take on an outsize importance and thereby poison our understanding of the world. We come to see events like this as much more common and significant than they really are.

Stories with this kind of negative value abound. You’ll hear about seven children dying in a school bus crash in Tennessee, or a man who kidnapped and imprisoned a woman in Ohio, and what they have in common is that the events in question have no impact on your life, but they tell you the world is a bad place. (These examples, by the way, are meant to be made up, but they probably bear some resemblance to things that actually happened, events that I couldn’t help but have some awareness of just through exposure to news sources.)

Most of us have therefore learned, unconsciously, to not let these sorts of stories have access to our feeling bodies. Unfortunately, because we do this unconsciously, we are training to numb ourselves to negative or problematic occurrences in our lives. (Conversely, when we make the choice consciously, we are doing something good for ourselves, taking control of our own emotional and energetic spaces. Indeed, when we start practicing that kind of approach, we often stop reading or watching the kinds of news sources that offer this kind of information, because we notice it’s easier and healthier to not engage with it at all.)

The impact of practiced numbness is nefarious. We become more and more disengaged from what’s going on around us. The world seems out of our control, beyond our power to do anything about. Numbness about our personal lives dooms us to living attenuated lives, unwilling and unable to change things for the better, either because we believe ourselves powerless to do so, or because we have no felt, emotional access to the value of a potential change. In our political lives, we end up up with a situation like we’re facing now, in which a benumbed populace is no longer able to engage intelligently with the problems it faces and instead chooses wishful-thinking pretend solutions.

While the path to re-engagement is learning to feel, a first step, especially in our political lives, is to stop feeding ourselves poison. If you want to get healthy, first stop doing the things that directly damage your health.

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