How about a “media fast” to start the New Year?!

“FAST MEDIA / MEDIA FAST”

(Lengthy but timely and rewarding)

Tony's picture 2 from PeggyWe had an interesting event happen in our family over the Holidays, which I think may be an eye-opener to others besides ourselves.  One of our close relatives commented that for the first time their children didn’t know what they wanted for Christmas, and the reason they gave was the eye-opener: for the first time they didn’t have live television in their home, so the kids didn’t know what toys were out there.  In other words, they had not been exposed to mass media advertising.  Wow! What a testimony to the influence of television in our lives!

A couple of months before the Holidays, a close friend for many years, Dr. Tom Cooper, asked me to read a book he was about to release entitled “FAST MEDIA / MEDIA FAST.” Well, I read the first two chapters and then had to set it aside until after our move to Southern Oregon from the Denver area.  I had offered to do a book review on my blog, so to keep my word I recently returned to his book online, more out of my integrity in making good on my offer than out of keenly piqued interest.

Quite frankly,  I had already grown somewhat weary of reading all the data the author had presented up front enumerating the many horrible things we are allowing the Media to do to our lives.  To be totally honest, in a peculiar way I felt irritated that someone would take icons that are such an integral part of our daily lives – television, movies, the Internet – and suggest we even consider the possibility we are addicted to them. But then, why not, if indeed we are?

Not that he does it without a lot of compassion and understanding – and certainly not at all to bash the media.  The data is presented very objectively without the slightest tone of condemnation or criticism. And he does re-count the many blessings in changed lives great programs of mediated material (movies, books, music, TV programs, etc.) have bestowed upon us and continue to bring to our lives as we’ve used them consciously and creatively.

Nevertheless, for me it was akin to the discomfort I felt listening to all the data warning against smoking in years gone by when I once enjoyed  the companionship of a cigarette and especially my pipe. Fortunately, I developed an allergy to tobacco in answer to a prayer that the Almighty find a way to take the addiction away from me.  It was the addiction that I found limiting and distasteful and not the tobacco.

As it turns out,  this is the real message Dr. Cooper conveys is his well-written, thought provoking, and reader-friendly (for an intellectual professor, that is) book: it’s our addiction to and abuse of mediated entertainment and information that the author brings to our attention – as seems typically the case with what we do with the good things life brings to us.  We tend to lose our balance and allow ourselves to become addicted, like the proverbial couch potato, to the consumption of our own creations and media of entertainment.

With the added incentive spurred by the story about our relatives whose kids didn’t know what they wanted for Christmas in the absence of live TV in their home, I returned to Tom’s book with renewed interest and a stronger commitment to hear him out all the way and tell my blog readers about this painfully essential and wonderfully important book.  So, here it is. . . . a truly important book with a timely message for all inhabitants of the planet.

“FAST MEDIA/MEDIA FAST”

I will start by saying the author, Thomas W. Cooper, PhD, a very personable and sweet-hearted gentle-man, besides being a fellow and fine musician, is a scholar and a Harvard-groomed university professor from Swampscott, Mass.  This, in and of itself, speaks volumes about his scholastic dependence on media in his chosen field of service.  His publisher, Dr. Michael Gaeta, also a good friend and colleague in the healing arts, introduces his author/friend in the Forward of the book:

In this cacophony of fast media, which make for superficial lives, comes Dr. Cooper’s learned voice, speaking words of wisdom and balance. Brilliant academics are at times disconnected from most people’s daily life experience, preferring complex theoretical frameworks to wisdom sourced in authentic experience. Dr. Cooper is remarkable in that his impeccable academic credentials are balanced by a heart-filled, spiritual, and eminently practical perspective, based in deep life experience.

Now, here’s what got my attention, and I think will grab your’s as well when you read his book. In preparation for his research project on the media’s influence in human affairs, Tom decided to go on a month-long fast from all media.  That’s right, he unplugged the TV and avoided the Internet for an entire month. After that, he decided to punctuate his media fast with an additional week-long fast from talking . . . except, of course, when he was spoken to and where it was necessary to his teaching duties.  Then he turns around and writes a book sharing his experiences during his fasts, which are really quite interesting, even inviting as they open opportunities in the privacy of personal introspection for honest self-examination.

He then proceeds to lay out not only thoroughly researched and well documented  data on the ramifications of the involvement of the media in our lives, both “good and bad,” but, even more helpful, how to go about taking a fast once in a while from our daily media diet, a diet to which we have grown accustomed, perhaps even addicted.  He even outlines how to do group fasts for families, classes or any group, and cites whole communities who permanently fast from all electronic media, even telephones and computers, such as the Plain People — the Amish and Old Order Mennonite, the Hutterite, and other subcultures.

Dr. Cooper gives guidelines in the form of symptoms of addiction, to which his readers may readily relate:

Long-term effects of addiction may often be … subtle ….  Staying up later each night, or changing one’s job to see the soaps, hiding an earphone line up one’s sleeve in class to hear the conclusion of baseball games, uninterrupted listening to music on the job to avoid boredom, missing appointments to see the next episode, wearing headsets while jogging to blot out the environment, reading a book through meals and events because “I couldn’t put it down,” and showing up late for meals whenever online, are all examples of media hooking us and rescheduling our lives….

He further helps us understand the nature of and distinction between habits and addictions:

 

One definition of the word habit is “act that is acquired and has become automatic.” Addiction carries the additional connotation “devoted to” or “given up to” or “controlled by” a specific habit. Usually, a habit forms prior to an addiction to that habit. For example, I might consciously eat ice cream periodically late at night. It is only when I eat it consistently and eventually automatically late at night that it becomes a habit. If I become conscious of the habit from time to time and decide to go without ice cream, I “break the habit” at will. When I discover that the habit can no longer be broken easily or will bring discernible consequences (depression, headaches, eating ice-cream substitutes late at night, etc.), the habit has become an addiction.

Similar to books on dieting and fasting from food, FAST MEDIA/MEDIA FAST includes a detailed guide on how to go about a media fast . . . and I must admit the author does so with keen sensitivity and generous support based on his own well earned understanding of the enormous undertaking such a fast could and likely would be for most of us.

To balance it all out, Dr. Cooper cites the many, many ways that the various kinds of media are useful in our lives and how we may return to our consumption of mediated material in a balanced way so as not to be consumed and controlled by it.  That aspect of the book I really appreciated and thoroughly celebrate.  Here’s a sampling of Tom’s balanced perspective, as well as a taste of the appeal and quality of his writing style, as he writes of and from his own experience:

During my media fasts, I consciously chose to be a creator, not a consumer. I let my mind relax, find different routings and mix new ingredients. By returning to composing and playing instruments I had abandoned, I found a strong river of inner creativity that had been dammed. Although I am not condemning reading, I found that a temporary switch from reading books to writing one restored a full measure of initiative to my work.

This “single switch” in consciousness and in action might be described as living from the inside out, rather than from the outside in. It is characterized by rediscovery of the creative process, which many of us abandon—some forever—usually during childhood. Motivation sharply increases, so much so that virtually any procrastination from the creative process seems a total waste of time. As a child I can recall times when the games, tree houses, sports or skits we were creating became so all-consuming and enjoyable that we could not wait for the next day to begin.

“MEDIA AS FRIENDS, NOT VILLAINS”

When the “single switch” is made from information gluttony to creative communication, one may return to media with new ears, eyes and thoughts. Instead of viewing media as mind pollution, each medium may be employed as a tool of creativity. When the mind and emotions begin to originate creative images and sounds, why not extend that creativity through books, radio, cyberspace, cassettes, or whatever is suitable? Media never have been enemies, in and of themselves. Rather, they simply amplify, disseminate and perpetuate the nature of human consciousness….   To the extent one’s work genuinely originates in the creative process, rather than duplicates conventional programming, it will assist in the liberation rather than enslavement of audience members. The single switch is contagious.

Rarely does one find an author who is as intimately familiar with his/her subject as Dr. Cooper reveals when writing about our “other freedoms” of which we are robed by our subjugation to mediated material, such as movies that bring us to tears against our will every time we see them.  I’m a real softy when it comes to joyful scenes in movies like “It’s a Wonder Life,” which Tom sites in his book.  As a physician, I was intrigued by his inquiry about the impact of manipulated emotions on our health:

Are these emotions genuine? Do they serve a purpose? To what extent are they voluntary? How do they affect our nervous system? Which ones will be replayed when triggered in the future? Do they upset the endocrine glands? Does this affect our emotional expression in the “real world”? Our emotional stability? No one seems to be asking or answering these questions with authority.

Then there’s the impact of over consumption of television on our children, scary to say the least:

Healy’s 1990 research suggests that television may be related to children’s attention and learning difficulties. In one sense, TV is a multi-level form of sensory deprivation that may stunt the growth of children’s brains. The combined research of Poplowski (1998), Gross (1999), Mander (1978), and Scheidler (1994) remind us that children are not just watching programs or surfing the Net, but are staring into flickering, radiant computer monitors and into fuzzy cathode-ray electron guns.

Johnson (1999) synthesizes this research to show what common sense might dictate: since repetitive screening allows functions of the corpus callosum, cortex, neocortex and limbic system to atrophy, children become more mentally lazy, uncoordinated and underdeveloped. She concludes that what children truly need to develop their minds are purposeful activities using their hands, feet and whole bodies; much exposure to nature and imaginative books; and much less media….

…More than anyone, parents and teachers may explain the difference between the “consumer” and the “creator” to children. The music classes, sports programs, summer camps, family outings, and educational or therapeutic hobbies in which we enroll our offspring pay lifelong dividends.

But, hey folks, our children will inevitably do what we do and not what we say.  This is one of my most favorite passages from Dr. Cooper’s book:

However, those who are addicted cannot bring others out of addiction. Since children are watching us for leadership and example, our own habits will loom large to them. In that regard, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s persuasive quotation applies as much to what adolescents see in us as to what they see in the hidden optical patterns in TV, video and computer screens. Emerson stated: “Do not say things. What you are stands over you the while and thunders, so that I cannot hear what you say to the contrary.”

The author sums up his perspective on the benefits of a media fast, such as regaining our five lost freedoms:

….   If there can be media addiction, then there can also be media liberation. But media liberation does not necessarily mean liberation from mass communication. Rather, it means liberation from the rigid attitudes, manipulated emotions, frozen thoughts, assumed identities and truncated perspectives that both contribute to and result in media addiction….  Fasting from any substitute for living can be liberating and empowering. The transition from consumer to creator can increase effectiveness and influence simultaneously.

Then there’s the impact of FAST MEDIA on our sense of meaning and time to keep up . . . with life itself:

“When I was faster, I was always behind” is a catchy refrain from Neil Young’s “Slow Poke.” (Reprise Records, 1999) Young’s apercu suggests that there are unintended and ironic consequences due to speed changes. As a child, I would play the long-playing 33 1/3 rpm records at the faster speeds of 45 rpms and 78 rpms with my friends. We found there were comic, absurd, and even fascinating effects at the faster speeds. But we could no long understand the song’s meaning. Is it the same for society?  …If so, the death of meaning, or of the time to find it, could be one of the most tragic unintended effects of the three “uppers”—keep-up, speed-up and blow-up….

Then there’s the role of choice:

The ultimate freedom rests in seeing that one has a choice—to identify with the creator or the consumer. Becoming the creator does not mean mindlessly bashing the media any more than mindlessly digesting it. In fact, one of the easiest, cheapest and most creative ways to publicize your liberation is to create a Web site or printed article about your creations.

Or, as I discovered for myself, start up a blog!  It doesn’t matter if anybody follows it either.  The real benefit to me is the writing of it, the delightful flow of creative thought and feeling; the creative release of my spirit through the carrier waves of words and ideas.  That’s the real benefit of creative use of any and all forms of media.

ALL SOUND ARISES OUT OF SILENCE . . .  AND RETURNS TO SILENCE

As a sound healer, I know that the purest and finest moment to connect with the healing current within is the golden moment of silence after the sounds fade out.  All sound arises out of silence and returns to silence.   True communication arises out of silence.  If I have something important to say, let me be quiet first in order to listen and hear what it is. Sound can be a tool for healing when used as a carrier wave for spirit and consciousness.  Not just any sound.  Sound that arises out of the silence that lies within.  The Sufi Hazrat Inayat Khan called that “Music.”   Dr. Cooper sees silence as a door to deeper awareness of presence:

Such personal silence emphasizes not so much what is absent, but rather hidden dimensions of self which suddenly become present. I am not suggesting that “enlightenment” or “wisdom” are automatically more available to the silent than to the loquacious. After all, a zombie seems silent; a corpse is still. But if the stillness is purposeful, consistent, focused, intelligent, and deliberately connected to a creative process, a larger awareness can appear, step-by-step.

Finally, as any good author would do, Cooper saved the best until last and brings his reader all the way Home to the inner soundscape of being itself.  I personally think that his final chapter is the most inspiring of all.  In writing about his speech fast, he crafts timeless words of insight and wisdom:

Naturally, there are other purposes for a speech fast—to enlarge one’s awareness of sound and listening, to learn of and from one’s interior soundscape, and to discover who is present beneath the mask…. …When clichés are liberated from our overuse, we discover in stillness the deeper meaning of “still waters run deep…..”   …being is the central ingredient of such depth, and the core of such stillness. Of course, when one stops over-reading and listens…. and indeed invigorates one’s own expression, yet another level of being is known.

What is discovered in these depths, or paradoxically at these heights, might be called being fully present. Fasting from all distraction, including one’s own post-dubbed narrative over the sounds and images of life, allows a sense of anchoring in this ground of being…present. The answer to the question “What is present when my programming is absent?” is “I am.”

IN THE END . . . TRUTH

Fasting from food with only juice and water to purify the body’s cells and fluids is a wonderful experience when done during a speech and media fast, as Dr. Cooper testifies toward the end of his book . . . and he ends his book with a wise suggestion as to the end purpose of any fast:

Our deepest danger is that we would ignore truth and not care, that we would persist in belief and hope, and thus avoid evidence. The longing for truth unites the spirit of education, religion, philosophy, science and journalism. If fast media were to ring true, not attract through the cosmetic, there would be less need for a media fast. It is to that quest for the ongoing discovery of truth, as best we may determine it, that this book, fast and life are dedicated. One and the truth are a majority….  So one of the deepest purposes of a media fast lies in the pursuit, and even the revelation, of truth. What is the truth of myself beneath my programming?

I highly recommend my friend’s book to my blog readers.  Order it online today and start the New Year with an enjoyable read on a timely subject.

So, here’s to your good health in 2011 . . . . and how about a media fast to start off the New Year?!

Dr.Tony Palombo

P.S. Tom’s book is available as an E-book (no e-reader necessary) at Gaetapress.com and  can also be pre-ordered there whether as a hard copy or paperback.  It will be available from the usual sources (Amazon; Barnes & Noble, etc.) this spring.

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