The Tudors on Showtime is an immensely popular series focusing on the reign of Henry VIII in sixteenth-century England — and its characters often face typical problems of the day. But in one episode, they discuss a problem that could just as well be happening now: the search for a quiet mind. Charles Brandon, the king’s great friend, commiserates with Henry Howard, the Earl of Surrey, on the fruitless effort to find peace and quiet. It’s an eternal human complaint, they both realize. Flash forward to the twenty-first century and they’re still right.
But the bombardment of information and noise we experience today would have been unimaginable in Tudor England. We live in the era of the Internet and digital devices; a cyber world that comes at us in a relentless stream on our phones and our PCs. It’s not just an inconvenience. There’s literally too much information to assimilate. Our ability to process and absorb the information we’ve just come in contact with is being hampered by this endless onslaught. As we lose our capacity to keep our thoughts organized, we also lose our access to true peace of mind. But there are simple strategies to develop a quiet mind, including these three:
A recent study by professors at Drexel and Northwestern universities found that students could better solve a series of anagrams if they went into a resting state beforehand. By settling into a state of rest instead of information loading, their right brain activity — associated with creativity — increased. You can better control your own thought process and achieve more mental creativity when you disengage from the stream of information coming your way in the digital world.
Today’s status quo is to allow ourselves to remain receptive — and therefore subservient — to the perpetual flow of scattered information on the Web. This also puts us in a position where we’re at the mercy of algorithms and coding — and trapped in the cycle of digital delivery. The more we receive, the less control we have of our own thought processes, the more fragmented our attention span and the more fragmented our focus.
To disengage, take a moment to sit quietly after you’ve just been online, and consider whatever knowledge and information you have just assimilated. Go over it in your mind. Reviewing it will bring a greater feeling of control over your thoughts. It may also better focus your ability to access relevant and related information when you go back online. Recent studies have shown that people actually need to rest their minds in order to effectively make the creative connections between different areas of knowledge and information. This increased focus will invariably lead to less mental chaos, and the more you practice, the more skilled you’ll become at the process.
Follow your own thoughts.
Too often, the chaotic stream of information encountered on the Internet hijacks our own thought stream. Either after being absorbed by the digital world, or during any other part of your day, find somewhere quiet to sit, and simply follow the stream of your own thoughts, no matter where they lead.
Psychologists who have studied human consciousness have known for some time that in order to awaken creative energy, we must erect barriers against distraction, dig mental channels so that mental energy can flow more freely, and find ways to escape interruptions. Following your own train of thought allows you to experience it more fully as your own. When you return to your smartphone or PC, you’ll have a heightened awareness of the difference between your thoughts and the chaotic stream of information coming from the Web.
Pick up a book and read.
In a 2015 report from CBS News, “Books vs. e-books: The science behind the best way to read,” Anne Mangen, lead researcher at Norway’s Stavanger University, told the Guardian that reading on paper provides a tactile sense of progress and a better connection to the story or text. If you genuinely want to maintain peace of mind and settle your thoughts in this digital age, one of the best things you can do is simply read a book — a real, physical book. Holding a bound book in your hand lets you dive into the writing more deeply as you experience the text in a fully embodied, physical state. There’s a vast difference between type on paper and on a digital screen. While text scrolling has been found to make remembering information more difficult, paper pages give spatio-temporal markers while you read. Touching paper and turning pages aids the memory, making it easier to remember where you read something.
Sinking more fully into the content you’re reading will result in a far clearer focus on the material. Then, when you return to accessing information on a digital device, you should be able to retain a similar level of absorption. After significant experience accessing information in such a fully embodied manner, the information coming from the digital world may be easier to assimilate in a less fragmented way. Instead of disruption, you experience absorption, leading toward a mind that is growing quieter.
There’s a profound connection between limiting how the Web’s chaotic stream of information infuses and controls our thoughts, and developing a quiet mind — and it has far greater implications than just being able to focus. A truly quiet mind allows for self-reflection, and more. It allows for a far more expansive awareness — one that rises far above the digital noise. This is the mind that can, on occasion, peek over the edge of our own mental processes toward a larger consciousness that exists beyond the often illusory bounds of thought and memory, and enables us to perceive a larger sense of meaning.