Houston, Do You Copy?

by Tom Swift

There are times when I cannot make a decision.

Not a large decision.

Not a small decision.

My mind in these moments is like television sets in the old days when they did not work. The antenna was broken or something and all you saw on the screen was what we referred to as “snow.”

In my head I think of what is going on as something like that. There is too much static.

Indeed, the mind’s not empty — it is, rather, the opposite. Too much something. Just like with the TV, there is a lot of electricity going on, but nothing coherent can be read from the currents.

I don’t like the machine comparisons so often used to describe the human body. The body, and its brain, are decidedly different from that of a machine and when we make the comparison we run the risk of minimizing these differences. We can mistakenly view the body as a series of impersonal parts rather than an organic whole. Yet it’s the language I have — it’s what seems to fit.

Static. I don’t know if I want to go for a walk or clean the house. I don’t know if I want to eat eggs or Cocoa Puffs. I absolutely do not know whether I want to play the harmonica. The latter example is not likely since I do not own a harmonica. But you get the picture.

I’m not sure what brings about this state. My sense is that we all can take in only so much sensory stimulation at one time and sometimes I take in my limit pretty quick. Actually, I don’t know how quick — I just know that I have. And I suspect it is quicker than for others, given how easily it is for me to stray outside my competence.

One distinction I can make is that of new learning versus old learning. When I engage the world during tasks that are foreign to me, my store of energy burns more quickly than when I engage in familiar tasks and processes. Today, for example, I did a number of house projects many of which aroused good and positive feelings — I was glad to have gotten theses tasks done. Some had been on my to-do list for weeks. Yet these were largely knew tasks for me and by the end, the person I was working with very well might have sensed my impatience. I wanted much to turn my attention to the familiar. My way of giving my brain a break.

Another way to put it: Let’s say you do not know how to speak French and you walk into a French language class. An hour later your brain is going to have been stimulated in ways very different than it is probably used to. I think this form of stretching is important and gives you benefits they go well beyond that hour. But it’s not surprising that you might to feel taxed for awhile immediately afterward. You flexed a flabby muscle and that muscle is going to be a little tired and maybe a little sore. (Forgive me all the metaphors in this post. I could easily insert more of them — be grateful I am not more out of control.)

Whenever possible in these moments I meditate. I take some breaths. I close my eyes. I take a short nap. I let the static die down. After a while the energy store replenishes. (Though I am still more likely to immediately seek the familiar.) Sometimes it really doesn’t take too long.

That is why I decided to write this post. This, writing, is, for me, another sort of stimulation — one that adds energy rather than takes it away.