Because we’re so constantly aware of too much going on in the world – too many complex distractions, too many red herrings and one-off inciting incidents all competing for our attention day in and day out – we simply can’t skillfully attend to all of them with any kind of coherence or consistent regularity. Unless … there’s an over-arching reason WHY we’re deciding to attend to the things we’re paying attention to.

Sensory Deficient Deformation

Before we get to “why” though, consider that the kind of information we take in and the way it is delivered to us is also of great concern. For me and for many others, by far, the greatest amount of the information comes in through the eyes – through reading and through watching video with and without sound. Vision, however, is already taxed to the max in the brain, and has by far the greatest amount of processing networks already devoted to it. The ear however, is “the battery of the brain.” It is the ear that primarily drives early development in utero, as baby begins listening to, and responding to mother’s voice. Mom’s voice is readily recognizable after the first ex utero breath is taken and continues to be impactful all across the lifespan.

AE NeumanThe ear continues to drive neural growth as the primary sensory driver until vision takes its place at the head of the sensory hierarchy. The primary way it does that is through … drum roll … contingent communication. I say something; you say something in response; I say something related to your response; you say something further related to mine (people who have difficulty with auditory sensory processing as a regulatory function, i.e. they struggle to remain calm in response to words and sounds, will often use non-contingent non-sequiturs to steer conversations in more emotionally manageable directions).

I’ve written before about the elements and conditions for contingent communication. What’s most critical about today’s info-besity is that a preponderance of it is the noncontingent, brain-dampening equivalent of empty calories. It does not work to grow new cells, make new, long-term connections and move us in the direction of increasing network integration. Integration means “to combine, make up, complete or unite a whole greater than the sum of its parts” (Steve Jobs recognized both the need for and the power of integration early on; and that is one reason he was so adamant in his demand that all of Apple’s products work seamlessly together). Increasing integration is key to every high-functioning network. Unfortunately, most of the ways that information is pushed upon us common folk fails to provide much integrative nourishment.

Ordo Amorum

I’ve also written about the need for each of us to construct a personal ordo amorum several times in various contexts over the years. An ordo amorum forms the basis of our “Why.” The need for one was made abundantly clear to me from observing MacArthur and Guggenheim fellows up close and personal for ten years. What an ordo amorum demands of us is that we decide what’s most important – not to others, not to parents, or kids or significant others – but what’s most important to us. What has the greatest heart and meaning for us? What do we want our lives to be about? Obviously, each of our lives can be about any one thing or any multitude of things, and most of ours are. But to be impactful and significant and brain-healthy, more of us will have to go deep rather than wide. Those folks I know who do go deep find something that speaks to them in such a way that total immersion, sometimes bordering on obsession, becomes the primary reason they get up every morning. Waking up and getting on with the day is an energizing experience that needs little external drivers – it’s auto-telic. And we need to find what it is in life that makes us come alive, because the world needs a lot more people in it who truly are alive and awake and able to easily tune out all the non-essential noise.

So, what is it that gets your juicer cranked up to the top of the dial each day?