Last month I had what you might call an aha moment about information overload.
I was reading an article online, tracking sentence after sentence, when I realized how strange I felt. I mean, the amount of space that was given to each small detail of this story was a bit overwhelming.
In that moment I saw how it was just so much minutiae. But I also recognized that information overload is part of our reality today.
We fill ourselves up with the minutiae of other people’s lives, many of whom we will never really know.
And we’re bombarded with the repetitive details of the world’s ongoing saga. Or maybe we find ourselves on the receiving end of information that we never exactly sought out. Or we seek out information that, in the end, is pretty meaningless to us.
That was the big takeaway for me: how much attention I inadvertently give to knowing things without actually wanting to know them.
And so began my new experiment, repeating these five words whenever I feel the need: I don’t have to know.
What I have discovered is there’s an opportunity in these words each time you say them.
To come back to yourself, to your relationships, to your world, washed clean. Not needing to know what will unfold.
There is a sort of wise innocence in this, a returning to your core self, that feels comforting and hopeful.
What’s even sweeter is this Joseph Campbell quote I came upon a few weeks later…
You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, when you don’t know what is in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be.
He called this place your Bliss Station, a perfect antidote to information overload.
It’s lovely to ponder our Bliss Stations, what they look like, where they are, how we’d be in them. I’m lucky to have a few such spaces that could be bliss with just a little rearranging.
Yet I’ve come to see that even in giving myself such a space or amount of time for not knowing, the real artistry is in accepting and using it, and allowing myself to let go.
I admit, that’s the hard part.
Because it’s not just fear of missing out that keeps us hooked to knowing.
It’s also related to our emotional experiences and patterns.
For instance, if you’ve experienced anxiety or trauma, you’re probably also familiar with the experience of hypervigilance. And if you’ve experienced depression, you’ve probably also experienced the self-criticism that goes along with it.
Not surprisingly, information overload contributes to both, and affects mental health. No wonder we need Bliss Stations.
But your Bliss Station needn’t be an actual place.
It might be an imaginary place inside of you. Or even a notebook or a journal.
You could actually start by making a list of all the things you don’t have to know right now.
That’s the first thing I did when I had my aha moment about not knowing as way to retreat from information overload. And since you probably have a lot of experience making lists, you know what to do.
Begin by setting a timer for 15 minutes, and see if you can come up with 50 things you don’t have to know. Keep your pen (or fingers on the keyboard) moving and don’t worry if you repeat yourself.
The beauty of this kind of list is it can quickly help you get below the surface of information overload to unearth your deepest wisdom.
Here’s a quick example of some of the things I don’t have to know…
- the year the last Harry Potter movie was made
- what that person is doing and saying online
- the weather forecast for the next 10 days
- what’s on the menu of the restaurant I’m visiting tomorrow
- if Trump will be impeached
- what the next two years will bring
- if the fires will return to Northern California this summer
- when the front garden project will be finished
- what my mother meant when she said that thing years ago
- if these 5 words will help you find your bliss
Ah, there is a kind of bliss in making such a list. And in service of changing your own relationship with information overload, what is it that you don’t have to know?
The trouble is, we are conditioned to want to retain and act on information. When our senses and consciousness are deluged with far more data than we evolved to deal with, we run into trouble. Trouble like stress. Trouble like depression.
-George Michelson Foy