Your well-being: Stillness

Is there a cost to wading through the Information Age?

By John F. Christensen, PhD

A recent development in information technology is the advent of Google glasses. These are smart goggles that allow streaming of data via the internet onto a sector of the lens and linked to a GPS embedded in the frame. Imagine walking by any place of business and with a glance at the storefront accessing the company website (restaurant menu, movie marquee with IMDB reviews) or being able to encounter a bird in the wild and with instant photo with feature recognition see all the information you want about that bird displayed in your field of vision. Pretty cool. Without waiting for this next best thing to emerge, we already have instant access to more information than was available in the great library of Alexandria (or any historical repository of human knowledge). If we wish, we can allow the information to roll over us in a continuous flow. But is there a cost to wading through this incessant stream?

Although our brains are quite adaptable and resilient, they require the full cycle of a night’s sleep to prune unnecessary synaptic connections and consolidate and strengthen the connections of new knowledge. They also require stillness and silence to find the depth and meaning in what we absorb. For us (and our children) these moments of stillness are disappearing as rapidly as ice sheets in the polar regions. I found a New York Times article by Pico Ayer to be a compelling reminder of the deep value of cultivating silence and stillness.

Making a conscious effort to create “unplugged” time can reap dividends beyond the investment of time (be it a day or an hour or even five minutes). When we disconnect from light emitting screens, email, Facebook and text messages we might delay, we open ourselves to the possibility of encountering what the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins called “the dearest freshness deep down things,” whether it be a manifestation of nature, the touch of a loved one or the murmurings of our own soul. A physician colleague in New York tries to honor the Sabbath in whatever small way he can. If he cannot take a Sabbath day, he takes a "Sabbath hour," into which he enters by placing the devices that connect him to the nonstop world (pager, smartphone, iPad, car keys) into a "Sabbath box," where they remain to be picked up at the end of the Sabbath time. The discipline to collect these moments of stillness requires that we tolerate the technological withdrawal symptoms of boredom or the anxiety of missing out on something.

For a deeper read on this issue, I recommend “The Shallows” (no pun intended) by Nicholas Carr (See The New York Times book review.) He refers back to Marshall McLuhan's “Understanding Media” to explore how the media of technology (rather than the message or content) are reshaping our minds.

To live consciously as humans entails being mindful not only of good nutrition, restorative sleep and adequate exercise — but also ensuring we get our recommended daily allowance of stillness.  

“When you lose touch with inner stillness, you lose touch with yourself. When you lose touch with yourself, you lose yourself in the world. Your innermost sense of self, of who you are, is inseparable from stillness. This is the I Am that is deeper than name and form.”   

– Eckhart Tolle



The APA Advisory Committee on Colleague Assistance (ACCA) seeks to promote the health and well-being of psychologists by providing resources to help them prevent burnout and to thrive and flourish in their personal and professional lives. It also seeks to help organizations in which psychologists work to promote their well-being. ACCA has a threefold mission:

  • To prevent and ameliorate professional distress and impairment and their consequences among psychologists.
  • To foster and provide resources via linkages to state associations to this end.
  • Thereby, to better protect the public.

ACCA attempts to attain these goals in three ways: by promoting an understanding and acknowledgment of the unique occupational hazards of psychologists' work, supporting the development and maintenance of state level assistance programming and encouraging appropriate linkages between state ethics committees, regulatory boards and assistance programs. By working in these areas, ACCA hopes to serve the interests of the public and the professional community.  

Resources to help psychologists and their professional organizations can be found on the ACCA webpage.