Putting the “Numb” in NUMBers

**Written on May 10th, 2017**
Why do we put so much value into numbers? Why do they serve as a method for deriving meaning? Everything we do is tied up in numbers. Have you ever stopped to think about how numbers are a manmade concept? They’re not natural. They’re a product of mankind, a result of a desperate search for order and structure.
Numbers are everywhere. I’m sure when I say this you instantly think of the obvious and conscious ways that numbers control us. The numbers on the scale, on the nutrition label, on tests and sporting events and followers and so on. These are well-known instances that we are all familiar with. Though rationally we understand that the following isn’t true, we can’t help but at least acknowledge it in passing: these numbers reflect our self worth. Higher number above that “followers” section of your profile? You’re worthy. Lower number on the scale? You’re doing something right. You get the point.
But it goes beyond this.
These are conscious occurrences of numbers manipulation, but it doesn’t stop there. Subconsciously, numbers can weigh us down without us realizing it. This afternoon, my sister and I went on a walk. I was so excited to get some fresh air after studying all day; the moment I stepped outside and the sun bathed my skin I was overcome with a fleeting peace. We began the uphill trek up our street, chit-chatting and breathing and being mindful. I really wanted to make an effort to avoid checking my phone and just enjoy nature and the outdoors. About halfway through our walk, I realized I had no idea what time we left or how long we’ve been out. And for some reason this made me uneasy. Why though?
Reflecting on it, I realized that simply having a sense of time, of the mere numbers that dictated my schedule, made me feel in control. And so I buried my phone deeper in my pocket. There was something scary about being uneasy, but also so damn freeing. I had no idea when we left, so I couldn’t even try to guess what time it was based on how much time I figured had past. I was truly at a loss.
It was this loss that opened my eyes and allowed me to realize what I had gained from it. An extremely small example in comparison, but it’s similar to shedding an eating disorder. There’s a certain fear that comes in facing life without it, but it’s exhilarating to finally be out of control and just live. Until I was stripped of time, I never realized how much I depended on it, those stupid numbers on my lock screen, on my watch, on the clock. I like to do everything in a timely fashion, priding myself in my discipline to stay on task and align myself with a pre-set scheduling of events. However, I realize this is just me searching for control, and it’s so stressful to constantly orient my life in this way. I’ve spent years now swearing how numbers don’t control me, and that’s true, in the sense that I was implying. I don’t weigh myself, I don’t count calories or macros. I’ve found myself and my worth through my passions, not numbers.
It’s these subconscious occurrences that slip right by all of us, myself included. Now I’m not calling for anarchy and begging you all to storm Capitol Hill demanding we eradicate the concept of time, but I do want you to be mindful of this trap. When I was on that walk, living free of time in blissful ignorance, there was nothing standing in between myself and my feelings. I wasn’t preoccupied with calculating when we’d be back, or how long this set me back in my studying, or if it was a long enough time to be acceptable exercise. I didn’t possess the numbers that would allow me to do so, leaving me with just my thoughts and my feelings and nature and my feet on the sidewalk and my dad’s baseball cap falling over my eyes because it was too big. I was able to disconnect myself from my timely obligations and notice the roots of a plant desperately breaking through the pavement, stopping to take in the sight and appreciate the plant’s strength, without worrying about how much time had passed.
Numbers make me numb. I’m not able to truly connect with myself when there’s always a quantifiable concept lingering in the background. It’s not weight or calories or obvious measures anymore, rather subtler outlets, like time and structure that comes with it. A world without time is unrealistic, and being the realist I am, I get that. But I encourage you to disconnect from the measures that weigh you down when you can. While time is essential, find loopholes in this. Take a study break and go on a walk for who knows how long (not you!), read a book and start and stop when you feel like it. Eat dinner an hour before you told yourself you could, because you’re hungry NOW. Numbers numb. Disconnect and allow yourself to feel, to think, see the course your mind takes when the necessary pieces that allow you to worry are simply not there.
There is a freedom in the unknown, and a lack of control will allow you to find that.
Until next time… 😉