We drink it all in, the images, sounds and words swirling about the modern landscape and filling our minds. Once inside, these images, sounds and words tint our memories, guide our thoughts, drive our feelings, embed themselves into our consciousness.
If we choose well, these external stimuli nourish our minds, sharpening our critical thinking, triggering our creativity, stoking our curiousity. If we choose poorly, these external stimuli deaden our minds, replacing original thoughts with pre-packaged dullness leavened with a laugh track.
It took me more than 30 years to appreciate this. For most of that time, I paid little heed to what I poured into my mind: constructive and destructive inputs mixed into a heady brew both toxic and potent.
It was only after I shut off the TV for good and experienced the withdrawal symptoms of a mind so deadened to original thought that it couldn't bear to be left alone with itself that I realized the damage I was doing to myself. After my TV recovery, I gave up computer and video games, I stopped listening to the idiotic but hypnotic pop music that formed the soundtrack of my life, I cut spectator sports, I started to rue the time I'd spent reading the same book over and over, tired rehashes of the same old conventions in the same old genre forms.
Then, as my mind gradually cleared, and my thoughts started reasserting themselved into my consciousness, I questioned my need to read newspapers and magazines. With all I was getting from them, was I getting understanding? I concluded not. I still follow events, but from afar, waiting for the shine of the new to fade, revealing what's truly worthy of my attention.
And so it goes. I've been erecting these mental filters for almost a decade now, clearing out the clutter, trying to protect my consciousness from being hijacked again.
What do I do with my free time now? I spend a lot of it just thinking. I spend a lot more time actively engaged with my family. I still read and listen to music and go to movies, but I think much harder before deciding what to spend my time with. I write, something I could never find the time to do before. And I still waste a lot of time, but I waste it differently, more likely to lose myself in daydreams.
All this has profoundly changed me. I'm stranger than I ever was. I often don't know what's happening. I'm losing the ability to chat. I no longer value the new. I don't want as much as I used to, probably because I've drastically reduced my exposure to advertising. I don't know what's hot or what's cool, living instead at room temperature. I feel better about myself, although my self-criticism is just as incessant and now much more clear-eyed and penetrating. I'm bursting with ideas. I feel an urge to create, an urge I never really felt before. I care less for what others think. I'm less ironic. I'm less predictable, in both good and bad ways. My feelings are more intense: higher highs, lower lows. It's as though I've lost a layer of mental insulation. I'm more connected with the people I love, more alienated from everyone else.
It could just be that I'm getting old, but I'm not that old yet. Or it could be that I'm finally maturing into the oddity I've been all along, but I wasn't odd like this before. Or maybe I'm regressing into a self-absorbed teen. Or this could all just be another of my conceits, a smugly self-congratulatory delusion of exceptionalism, a mature form of the consciousness pollution that's clouded my head since I was a child.
Whatever, all I know is I feel happier, more aware, more in control and more interested since I turned off, tuned out and dropped back into my life.
P.S. More here.