The Truth About the World

This isn’t a post about how I’ve figured out the meaning of life or why any of us were put on this earth. Rather, it is about a song, and more specifically, about the power of music – to lift us up, to carry us through, to help us heal in times of need.

I was recently introduced to the song “The Truth About the World” by Andrea Marie during a Saturday morning Zoom session with some local Nia sisters. To be honest, I couldn’t hear the song that well through Zoom but fortunately, I tagged it through the Shazam app. Later, I found the song through Apple Music and had a chance to listen more closely. And I was blown away.

The song starts with a simple blend of acoustic guitar and keyboard, with some soft, non-lyric vocals. Then comes the first verse:

Have you grown tired
of feeling alone
Numb to the earth
and numb to the soul

Whoa. My first thought was how these words struck a chord given that so many of us have been staying at home, social distancing since the pandemic started, leading to a sense of isolation – and a need for connection with loved ones, near and far. Then I learned that the song is from an album she released in 2016…and it made me think about how many people may have been feeling this way before the words “corona virus” became a part of the lexicon.

Over the next two verses, a variety of percussion instruments join in as well as some strings. A simple drum beat, echoing a heartbeat, growing louder as the song continues…and then we reach the repeating chorus:

Everyone is hurting
Everyone is searching
Everyone is looking
for the truth about love
For the truth about a god
For the truth about the world

On the fourth and final chorus, the instruments begin to drop out until it is just vocals and the drum beat. A simple end, mirroring the simple beginning to a song that is anything but simple in meaning. And so, so powerful. I have had this song on daily rotation for the last week – sometimes it makes me cry, other times it brings a sense of hope and healing. I was not surprised to learn that the artist is also a member of a contemporary worship band called United Pursuit. I don’t typically listen to “religious” music but there are times when music transcends faith.

Click here to listen to a live performance or search for the song on your favorite music streaming app.

Breathe in, breathe out

One of the self-care strategies that has helped me manage much of the anxiety and uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic is a daily meditation practice. For almost four years now, I have started my day with Insight Timer, listening to either a guided meditation or meditative music. As anyone who practices mindfulness meditation knows, a mainstay of the practice is focusing on your breath as a way to stay anchored in the present moment. Perhaps now more than ever, I have come to appreciate the calming power of deep breathing.

In thinking about the breath, I had the idea about a month ago to create a playlist of songs that have to do with the breath or breathing. A few favorite songs came to mind and I also did a quick search in my music library. I started with the following songs, but plan to add to the list as I come across others that fit the theme – and contribute to my peace of mind, particularly on those days when I am feeling rattled by the state of the world. Lately, I have been listening to this playlist on Monday mornings, as a way to start off the week on a positive note.

“Breathe” playlist
I’m Alive (with Dave Matthews) – Kenny Chesney
Breathe (feat. Colbie Caillat) – Taylor Swift
breathin – Ariana Grande
Breathe – Michelle Branch
Catch My Breath – Kelly Clarkson

If you have not already done so, I encourage you to use music as a way to manage the roller coaster of emotions you may experience as this pandemic continues to unfold and evolve, with no clear end in sight. Find songs that will make you smile when you are feeling down, as well as those that will help you relax when you’re wound a little too tight. You can even throw in the ones that make you want to get up and move. Create your #pandemicplaylists and tap into the healing power of music.

Time Well Spent

As I shared in my last post, my husband and I celebrated our 20th anniversary this fall with a lovely trip to Exuma in the Bahamas. What I did not share was the eye-opening lesson I learned on this trip about my dependence on – or should I be so bold as to admit – my addiction to technology.

We had a bit of downtime on our trip as there were not a ton of things to do on the island other than hang out on the beach or a boat. Despite having ample reading material with me, what was the first thing I found myself doing when we weren’t busy? Jumping on my phone, mindlessly scrolling through the same social media and news apps over and over. Yikes. It hit me: I had forgotten how to be bored – or more precisely, how to be comfortable with being bored.

I have had concerns in the past year or so with the amount of screen time I log, whether it be on my phone, tablet or computer. I had taken a “tech health” survey back in May 2018 and was rather pleased that I scored Very Good (considering that my family had been harassing me about the time I spent on my phone). I let my guard down a bit after that, thinking I was doing better than the average person. Like many people, I have mixed feelings about technology. On the one hand, it is super convenient to have just about everything I need to run my daily life in a device that fits in my pocket. But as I have often learned the hard way, it also makes it too easy to use this technology inappropriately (phubbing, anyone?) and ineffectively (somehow wasting 15 minutes browsing through my Twitter feed when my intention was to look at the weather forecast!)

For these reasons and more, I have decided one of my personal health goals in 2020 will be to improve my digital wellness. I have been doing some research about ways to monitor and reduce screen time, as well as how to take control over my technology rather than let it control me. By now, most of you have probably heard the news that the creators of smartphone apps intentionally design them to make us addicted. Therefore, it will take intentional strategies to counteract this “programming.”

Below are some of the resources I have found quite helpful as I embark on this journey:

Determining Your Tech Health

The first step is really about establishing a baseline – figuring out how healthy or unhealthy your tech habits are, so that you can identify areas for improvement. I recommend Amy Blankson’s Tech Health survey as a starting point. She also has some cool resources on her website including free downloadable wallpapers for your phone that prompt you to think about use of your phone as you pick it up.

The other strategy is utilizing the Screen Time function on your iPhone (or iPad), which was released with the iOS 12 update. (I believe Android phones have a similar feature called Digital Wellbeing.) This function provides you with a weekly report of how much time you spent on your phone, how many times per hour you picked it up, what apps you were using, etc. It may help to just start reviewing your report week to week to get a sense of your current usage. Then you can take advantage of the options such as setting time limits on certain apps, and scheduling downtime (think of it as “nap time” for your devices). Click here to learn more about Apple Screen Time settings and here for Google’s Digital Wellbeing features. One caveat: these limits are self-policed; for example, you have the option to ignore the time limits on apps once they have been met. So, it may take some discipline and willpower to stay on track if you are tempted to bypass the soft stop.

Developing Healthy Habits

I have found two tools that I plan to utilize to develop healthier habits around my use of technology. The first is a 10-day online course called Develop Digital Health Habits by Robert Plotkin that I have accessed through my premium subscription to Insight Timer, my go-to meditation app. (Note: If you are not a premium subscriber, I believe you can purchase the individual course for about $10). I’ve already listened to the entire course and picked up a few good tips, such as turning off all but the most necessary notifications from various apps. However, I plan to listen to the course again and take notes this time, as there were numerous helpful suggestions that I would like to take advantage of that I didn’t quite grasp the first time through. The beauty of this course is that each lesson is approximately 10 minutes long, so it is not a huge time investment.

More recently, I read an article that referred to the Time Well Spent movement led by Tristan Harris, a former Google employee who expressed concern about smartphone addiction and questioned how his company and other teach giants could build systems that gave people time back. He wound up leaving Google to start a non-profit organization called the Center for Humane Technology. It’s vision: “…a world where technology supports our shared well-being, sense-making, democracy, and ability to tackle complex global challenges.”

I was very excited to find a section of their website called “Take Control” that outlines several manageable steps to help fight the addiction to our devices. My two favorites that I am going to start with:

  • Turning off all notifications except those from actual people (e.g., from text messages or other messaging apps). That little dot in the corner of apps is red for a reason – it is a trigger color that instantly draws our attention. This strategy makes perfect sense as we have been trained to think that every notification is urgent, when in reality most of them are just a waste of our time.
  • Changing the color filter to grayscale. This one blew my mind as I did not even know it was an option! Choosing grayscale helps many people check their phone less as it is not as appealing as all those shiny, happy colors. True confession – I just switched on this mode and it really makes a difference. (The cool part though is you can easily toggle it on and off so that color is available when you need it, for example, showing off pictures from your latest vacation.)

I know that this journey to digital wellness may not be an easy one – many of my habits around technology and smart devices are well engrained in my brain. However, I am up for the challenge as I know that it will lead to more intentional use of my time…which will lead to more peace of mind.