Getting Zoomed Out?

Have you stopped being excited about another Zoom invitation?

It is a bit paradoxical. We are hungry for social contact and the resumption of our group activities, by doing so by ZOOM is tiring. Along with the other kinds of fatigue we are experiencing as a population, we have now added Zoom fatigue.

Zooming has become wildly popular as a way to connect with groups of people socially and as a way to conduct business. Private music lessons, medical appointments – all kind of things are now being done by Zoom.

Along with all of its benefits, Zooming, it turns out, is very taxing for the brain. The brain is highly efficient in its use of energy because the energy supply it draws from is very small. When, as a community, we demand more electricity than the power plant is putting out, parts of the grid shut down. So it is with the brain when we overtax it, which Zoom can do.

What we are used to in small group gatherings is seeing each other’s faces in the same setting. On Zoom, everyone is in a different setting, sometimes wildly different backgrounds. This is the problem for the brain. We are all in different places, so we see different backgrounds along with the faces. When the focus switches back and forth so quickly among so many places, the brain goes, “Where am I?”

Then, quickly we are in somebody else’s home or in their Hawaiian vacation, or in an imaginary background, with the body in front of it moving like a ghost. And then we find our mind’s looking into people’s rooms, intrigued to see what books they have, or knickknacks or artwork. While we might find the intriguing, it does add to the brain fatigue. Nor is it the point of connecting by ZOOM. It is easier for the brain if we all choose plain backgrounds, like a blank wall.

In large group events, like classes and conferences, we don’t have to see everyone’s faces all at once. We are in rows facing the speaker or panel. The back of people’s heads is not distracting like it is seeing closeups of people’s faces. The brain then tries to interpret facial expressions, which is often a waste of energy.

For social events, since we can’t yet meet in person, it is comforting to spend some time in gallery view to see everyone’s faces. Then, in the discussion, it may be good to give preference to switching out of that to reduce stress on the brain, depending upon the length of the session. For large group gatherings with people we are not close to, the gallery view may not be worth the mental energy.

The brain is also taxed by having to deal with audio breakups. It tries to fill in the gaps to figure out what was just said. Such overloading of bandwidth can be reduced by having your device connected to your router with an ethernet cable. Or, if you can’t do that, have your device as close as possible to the Wi-Fi router.

And/or, I suppose, space the ZOOM sessions out so they do feel welcome. They really are helping with the stay-at-home part of this collective Rx we are part of. Even with the opening up process starting, it may take a vaccine before we no longer have to rely of ZOOM.

COVID-19 Disciplines as Spiritual Practice

The COVID-19 situation calls for both active and passive roles. For most of us, our role is passive. It is important that we abstain from doing certain things, like encroaching on another’s six-foot safety zone. Even further is following stay-at-home orders. We also have had to master the discipline of control of what we touch with our hands and the practice of effective hand cleansing. This is what love of neighbor and love of self look like right now. Since these are difficult disciplines, we can be tempted to just want to get through them so our lives can return to normal. But what if we could emerge transformed instead of just returning to normal?

Approaching these practices as a moral and spiritual disciplines can help. In many spiritual practices, abstaining from one thing opens other doors. Silent retreats help us focus on the non-verbal. Custody of the eyes, also used in spiritual retreats, helps increase singular focus on what is most important. As a spiritual practice, staying in place is akin to cloistering. By putting a container around our lives, new things can grow that wouldn’t otherwise.

I have been on a couple of retreats where we had extended periods of staying in place as a solo practice. I found myself engaging more in the few things around me and experienced that the few became many. I was also better able to notice and value what was happening inside me. It is sort of like the spiritual discipline of savoring, where we slow down to explore what we eat and engage it more fully. Often my mind goes to the life that was lost on my behalf, where the food came from and the people who tended to it and made it available to me.

Whether our homes contain a little or a lot, there is rich opportunity to marvel and savor. Trees were cut down for my benefit so I could enjoy the beauty of their grain. I benefit from human curiosity, discovery and ingenuity with the amazing inventions available to me. How did someone figure that out, I wonder? What about ceramics and glass – humans finding ways to create what they saw volcanoes create. Metal working, wood working, art, music, cooking and baking, were all originally recognized as awesome, magical processes – alchemy.

If we share our space with other humans, like partners, spouses and children, that is also rich and complex. So too, with our inner lives – the deeper awareness that is more possible with the container of restricted movement.

I could go on and on about the richness that comes with staying in place and maintaining the six-foot safety zone, and so could you. May we do just that with this opportunity. It promises to increase our admiration, respect and gratitude for God, neighbor and self.