• Austen Hayes

Dose #17: 90 Days Without TV - Rested, Inspired, Organized

"The monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind."

~ Albert Einstein


One year ago I stopped watching television for 90 days. I can't say I expected anything more than a quieting of the noise in my headless disturbance. But, at the end of three months, life was improved.


The pile of unread books on my night table disappeared.


Evenings in the kitchen I listened to the audio version of George Eliot's, "Middlemarch" (all 26 discs) - something I'd thought about, but never found the time to do. Not wanting to leave my 'olde English' companions too quickly, I found myself preparing meals with more care. Lost in the story's gossip and intrigue, I scrubbed pots without objection, kitchen time was changed from obligation to pleasure.


A plan to do 20 minutes of nighttime yoga remained a 'plan' until I turned the TV off - then it became routine - a way to strengthen my back and clear my mind.


I downloaded every back episode of a favourite radio show, "On Being", (click here) hosted by Krista Tippett. It was the darkest time of year, but as I listened to recorded conversations with poets, scientists, writers, and philosophers, I was lifted by new thought and fresh ideas. My mind was opening rather than bracing as it does as I sit waiting for the next gruesome tale on TV.

A Place To Rest

I began going to bed one, sometimes two hours earlier, eager to get to whatever I was reading. What had been a rushed 5 - 10 minutes spent with only partially remembered material, became quality book time.


Overall, home was calm, more organized. I felt healthier, better rested, more in control. Rather than being force-fed a constant stream of rancor and repeats of the same political conflicts told and re-told, I was choosing the way I would spend my time. As one of the 'newscasters' on Saturday Night Live once said, "The news is the same every day, it just happens to different people." That's right. I wasn't missing a thing.


I'd been using TV as distraction, a way to get through the boring tasks of ironing, office records, bookkeeping. But why would I want to go through - or only 'get through' - this glorious life in a state of distraction? Isn't being aware being alive?


For those of us living alone, television brings familiar faces into our homes, regular visitors...friendly but not demanding. They talk to you, but you don't have to talk back unless you want to. There are benefits.


Last week, sitting in front of the TV, listening to opinions and contradictions on the largely unpleasant news, I heard myself ask - "What am I getting out of this? How is this helping me?" The answers: "Nothing " and "It isn't!", led me to the 'off' button. Silence.


For a moment I felt alone, the air empty...now what do I do? Then I remembered last year's 3-month break and decided to do it again. Now, day #7, quality of life is better once more.


Some say they couldn't possibly give up watching television in the middle of winter when they're most in need of being entertained. Maybe it's the best time. Most alone, most confined, this is a time when you face yourself in a way you never do when the sun is high and the air is warm. If you dare be quiet, you might find someone inside that beautiful mind of yours waiting to be heard, you might remember those things you've wanted to do but don't. Those ideas, the ones belonging to you, may walk in, asking you to look again, asking to be nurtured. Don't be afraid to spend time with you...


There's plenty of evidence that depressed people watch more television. There's some, perhaps weaker evidence, suggesting television watching causes depression, a passive rather than active way to spend one's time. There's a solid body of evidence linking television watching to sedentary living, and we know what that does.


We'll never return to a time of no TV, but it might be wise to think about how and what we engage with day-to-day, good and bad. How is every 24-hour period carved up, what's the quality of material feeding the psyche? What's the impact of 3 - 5 hours of television watching added to 3 - 5 hours of time on other devices, and what will it add up to ten years from today? What might it keep us from doing? Will we be better people? A more or less thoughtful people?


The average amount of time Americans spend each week watching TV: 35.5 hours. The average amount of time spent weekly online: 1 in 5 spend about 40 hours online; those between the ages of 16 - 24 about 34.3 hours. What would you do if you had an extra 30 - 50 hours each week? 200 hours each month?


Referring to the word "rest", poet-philosopher, David Whyte writes, "Rested, we are ready for the world but not held hostage by it, rested we care again for the right things and the right people in the right way. In rest we reestablish the goals that make us more generous, more courageous, more of an invitation, someone we want to remember, and someone others want to remember too."


I'm not sure I'll get all of that out of a three-month TV break, but I know for now, I'm not a hostage.


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