I hear more and more people talking about how they either can't get to sleep or don't sleep well. I suspect it's because our minds and spirits need time to process the stimuli they’ve been fed so they can come to some sort of resolution. Maybe arriving at that resolution is what allows them to relax for a while and in turn what allows us to sleep.
If so, then why are our minds failing to process and resolve the stimuli they've harvested? Is it possible that they require an environment with minimal cognitive input to do that? Is is possible that when they’re taking in new data at such a high rate they can’t process the data they’ve already stored up?
Considering history it seems plausible. Transportation on foot, by horse, or in an early vehicle wasn't silent, but it didn't cram the brain with the thought-provoking and emotional data in music, fiction, and talk radio like our car rides do now. The same goes for plowing a field, maintaining the home, or working in a factory or an office years ago. Those didn't typically feature a constant stream of new cognitive input via music with verbal messages, podcasts, commercials, TV shows, movies, etc. The cognitive downtime offered by silence or low level tasks (especially repetitive ones) in an environment with minimal intellectual stimuli may have allowed the mind and spirit the space they require to work out backlogs of data and prevent log-jams from bogging down the system (and keeping you up at night, among other things).
Modernity typically lacks that downtime, even filling our menial tasks with provocative input. We walk and travel to podcasts and music, we "relax" to fiction filled with both talking and music, and we fellowship to the same. We eat at home and in restaurants in front of them, we work to them. It’s what comprises our couch time and ironically we even "relax in nature" with with earbuds spouting them. Often the only chance our minds and spirits have to get a respite from all that input is a short walk from the car to the building we're headed to, but we fill even those few seconds gathering cognitive input from our phones.
We have 1000 times the input of previous generations and 1% of the downtime to process it. The result seems to be not just a loss of sleep, but a society that relies on someone else to process our data for us and tell us what we think about it. We’re defiantly clinging to ideas we’ve never researched past page one of Google. And if we do look deeper it's only to confirm our biases with personalities and media who we know will confirm our opinions. (Where do we think we got the ideas in the first place?) We use media to socially shame people with opposing views and academia is even beginning to bar them from their campuses. The result is a population crammed full of data yet devoid of purpose and identity. And individualism.
We’re designed for greater things than this and much of the answer lies in embracing the silence. It's there we can sift through this backlog of data for ourselves, and if we’re open to it, sift through it with the help of our creator. But when was the last time you intentionally spent an hour with no input? Thirty minutes? Fifteen?
There’s more to you than you could discover in ten lifetimes and as someone made in the likeness of your loving creator (Genesis 1:27) much of what lies beneath your surface will astonish you in all the best ways. You are an artwork fashioned with a purpose (Ephesians 2:10) but to discover that purpose you will need to plan downtime into your schedule. In the midst of all the noise it’s hard to hear your own thoughts, much less the thoughts of the invisible God.
“'Go out and stand before me on top of the mountain,' the Lord said to him. Then the Lord passed by and sent a furious wind that split the hills and shattered the rocks-but the Lord was not in the wind. The wind stopped blowing, and then there was an earthquake-but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was a fire—but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the soft whisper of a voice.” (1 Kings 19:11-12)
"But the news about Jesus spread all the more widely, and crowds of people came to hear him and be healed from their diseases. But he would go away to lonely places, where he prayed." (Luke 5:15-16)
David Barton is the Director of Worship & Discipleship at MGCC.