Reclaiming the Whole Narrative

“The single most valuable resource I have is uninterrupted thought”. – Adam Brault

So, let’s get started…

I want to suggest something here that might make me appear a bit of a dinosaur, a fuddy-duddy, even a spoiler. Once again, you’ll only find the following useful if you are looking to reclaim a bit of yourself from gadget entanglement.

Thought for the day: Stop commentating on the sidelines of your own peak experiences.

What on earth do I mean by that? Let me give an example or two.

Someone is at a major event – a concert, an Olympic final, their daughter’s wedding, even a candlelit dinner. Two people are taking their first, tentative romantic steps towards each other. Attention needs to be on those feet, those steps, not who is peeking in at the window.  Yet at various times during the event or the scary, emerging process , out pops the mobile phone and a little mini report appears on Twitter or Facebook, or Linkedin.

I mean, what harm can that do? It’s all just a bit of innocent fun. isn’t it?

The power of the whole narrative is its “whole”-istic nature. Interruption, for whatever reason, can knock the stuffing out of the growing profundity of an experience. Actually, I’d suggest that seeing something through from start to finish, is a bit like taking a deep breath in and out – it’s good for us, and it was designed to be so, by millions of years of evolution. Interrupting the breath all the time is a kind of edginess, nervousness and it can play havoc with the beat of the heart.

Also: “You can’t grow a healthy plant by constantly digging up its roots to see how they are doing.” (Wise old saying)

When I go to see a play, there’s something on offer that can be enjoyed in fits and starts (peppered with distraction). but if I immerse myself in the whole thing, I get a kind of long, gorgeous breath, a longer, bigger experience that can run throughout my self. Many people these days find it impossible to stay focused on one thing for very long, to stay “in the zone”. Ironically, many computer games and flashing screens, wittingly or unwittingly, are designed to capture our attention in the form of a hypnotic entanglement. A person can stare at a screen for an entire train journey but be unable to enjoy the same length of time reading a book, or even looking out of the window, or engaging in a physical conversation.

Reclaiming the whole narrative recreates several competences we may well have started to lose. One is the ability to “stay with something out of our own will force”.  Another is our ability to be patient with a process. Patience and perseverance are life skills that can ensure we realise our longer term goals in life. Developing the habit of commenting on the sidelines of our experiences, by constantly tweeting, texting and micro-reporting in real-time, may be fun, may keep our networks in exciting touch (we get instant feedback and affirmation from them through replies, comments and “likes”), but we also develop the habit of not being able to see the whole narrative, to feel the whole narrative and, ultimately, this can corrode our will power by introducing a compulsion to “package” our bigger experience with interruptions and distractions in the form of “chunking” the whole song into sound bites.

“When a wise man walks, he just walks”, goes the old saying. Look at your feet too often as you walk, and you’ll either trip up or bump into someone or something. Worse, the whole vista of the journey will elude you. Your experience will be patchy, disjointed and often unsatisfying.

There’s nothing wrong with some live commentary on a micro-blogging platform such as Twitter. It can be fun. It can be inclusive. But I’ve met too many people who missed the glorious solar eclipse because they were too engrossed in trying to photograph it. I’ve sat at an incredible musical performance where someone was texting about it so much they rarely looked up and really wasn’t enjoying the music. Equally, giving ourselves the full, uninterrupted experience lends a sacredness to physicality that can be rare, refined, precious and, ultimately, unique BECAUSE it is a whole flow, without stumble.

Interrupting a process, especially one that is affecting our inner life in a profound way – should be a conscious choice. We should interrupt it because we will it, not because of any compulsion, or because we feel “pulled” to. I might read a book from cover to cover without a pause, and I do that because that’s what I need at that moment in my unique biography. It’s the book that goes deep and even changes my life. I start walking and I don’t stop and it’s thrilling and energising and something shifts in my thinking. Getting into a flow sometimes cries out for the whole flow to be allowed to play out. Recognising those moments often creates the critical incidents that move us in leaps, bounds and quantum shifts. Start and finish sometimes need no interrupted middle.

Sometimes we may decide to put our paintbrush down and interrupt our flow for a break, or some welcome distraction. When that is a choice, it usually nurtures us, and feeds the quality of the narrative. Writers do it all the time. But often, and vitally, they don’t and, the process flows to where it needs, without interruption.

Always on, always connected devices, with an imagined audience of “friends” and contacts demanding minute by minute updates, to even our most sacred, important, and profound experiences, replace one flow with another. The new flow becomes one of the narrative of commentary on our experiences, the narrative of “We interrupt this story with a newsflash”. Then we become real-time news reporters of experiences that really do require our full attention. We even become tittle-tattle ghosts, shades haunting ourselves in the moment. We become supergrasses of our own secret selves. Even as it is apparently innocent fun it fractures our present and our presence.

Switch the device fully off, and give yourself a break from commentating on what you are experiencing. Let your networks know afterwards. You’ll then find yourself in a different mode – not commentating, and “projecting” your thoughts onto social media, but instead RE-flecting. And when you do that you live once again into the experience and it can feel like harvesting, like really properly tasting the experience.

You smile. You kiss. The next thing is supposed to be a gorgeous, mysterious long silence. Instead you find yourself heading to the bathroom and your fingers are tapping “Woohoo!” and even change your status to “In a Relationship” or “It’s complicated”. You return,wanting to pick up where you left off, to continue the flow of the unfolding story. But the tweet has turned you into a twat, and the flow is broken.

Some people have lost the whole narrative. Perhaps forever. But stories need to be allowed to play out. Silence and non-interruption can be golden. Sitting on the sidelines of your own experiencing self splits the experience. Often the person you might be sharing that experience with can feel you are fractured, distracted, partly absent or elsewhere. Even you can start to become aware of your own ghost.

Let your next peak experience be a whole one. Taste it all, without interruption. Don’t become a live news bulletin for your dreams coming true. They might just turn into nightmares. But hey, you can tweet those just as easily…

About Paul Levy

Paul is a writer, thinker, facilitator, theatre-maker, and conversifier. He is the author of the book, Digital Inferno.

Posted on January 16, 2013, in Key themes. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Thank you for this Paul. I like what you’re saying here. Chimes with Patrick Zimbardo’s RSA Talk ‘The Secret Powers of Time’

  2. Thanks for posting both of these, really interesting comments and some that definitely ring true. Particularly to moments when I have questioned why I felt the need to tweet about something that very moment. Also looking at different perspectives on time, I know I have noticed it a lot moving back and fourth from Falmouth in Cornwall back to Brighton and into London. Three very different paces of life.

  3. Pierluigi Assogna

    I perfectly agree with you. Thankyou

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