Mirror of Zen Blog

Dr. Nicole LePera on Strategies for Dealing with Over-Stimulation

It happens sometimes that students or friends encounter me emerging from a taxi or a train, or when walking through a shopping mall or airport, that I am wearing a set of over-ear Bose noise-canceling headphones. They are an investment which I made several years ago to control the level to which my solitude is molested by peoples’ habitual and senseless use of piped-in music in public spaces, of background radio-playing in commercial spaces, and – – especially in the last several years – – peoples’ propensity for engaging mindlessly in out-loud audio or video conversations on their phones while riding nearby in a train or a bus, or even in a favored café where I might go to read and reflect on things.

It is not uncommon for some meditation student to see me wearing a set of noise-canceling earphones around my neck in a public space, and look at me quizzically. Or smirk. I get some question like, “Sunim, you are always telling us not to choose distraction. Why are you listening to music out in the world, when you tell us that is not helpful for our practice to put earworms in our heads so constantly?“ One student of mine, who is a therapist even chided me for the use of headphones, saying that I was “isolating“ myself from other people.” he thought that I was using the noise canceling headphones to “stay in my own little world“.

My own personal Jesus. Don’t go anywhere without ‘em.

I have heard different variations of this question several times over the years. And I must always explain why: If I am not engaging in the rare podcast , it is never for music that I employ these, but rather to give a protective barrier in spaces where unwanted random mind-pollution is inseminated into my brain without any ability to control it, or its lingering effects. (And the employment of these has become much more relevant even to my own consideration when I was recently diagnosed for a tinnitus problem by the doctor determining that I have a condition called “acoustic hyper acuity”. The doctor said that I “not only hear too sharply, but hear things that other people cannot hear.”

Dr. Nicole LePers is a therapist and bestselling author who is quite prolific on social media. She has this astounding capacity to produce posts every single day, not one of them lacking in any depth or true substance. Regarding matters for managing the human psychology, I find her always to be an extraordinarily insightful and compelling – – and truly compassionate – – voice of good, practical, reason and grounded empathy. She is one of the foremost must-read “public therapists“ out there (akin to what’s called a “public intellectual“, I suppose you could say).

Some thing she posted today caught my attention. It is a subject about which I often speak during Zen retreats: the matter of our hyper-stimulating modern environment, whether it’s through our ubiquitous electronic interface, or merely the social pressures of navigating one’s self through densely packed relationships in a modern world founded entirely on commercial interests and messaging.

Of course, Zen meditation is a perfect “strategy“ (for want of a much, much better word) for mitigating the hyperstimulation of our modern environment and its toxic, deleterious effects on our thinking and emotions. Yet in terms of pithy actionable strategies, she offers a very nice list of things that people can do to protect their solitude, while in the midst of social relationships and situations, on able, as they might be to have the environment of a temple, to protect them, as I do most of the time.

One point struck me, in particular, in her listing today of insights for considering protective measures that might mitigate our truly invasive modern life. It was interesting to read this point, coming from a noted therapist. I have indicated it in the screenshots of her post, below. Not like I needed validation, or anything on this point, but it was refreshing to see the congruence of her strategy, and my own. And all of the other points, she offers are also extremely helpful for people to implement, as I have already lived with these, and found them to be extremely supportive in our complicated, ever more intrusive social spaces:

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