REMEMBER YOUR SELF
The following piece was written for Huffington Post, and was originally titled “Remember Your Self”.
It was renamed without my involvement, to "The Electronic Sabbath Challenge". We are living in such artificial times that simple and profound truths like Self have no pull and hence the cheesy re-title in an attempt to get attention. Not to mention the unfortunate use of the word challenge: our egos love challenges…
The word Sabbath is derived from the Hebrew "Shabbat" meaning "to cease".
The blogosphere needs another post like the ozone needs another hole. Yet, here I am. I read all the things that you read, I can commiserate on the poor health of our ecosystems, nation, politicians, cities, and schools. Don’t even get me started on our ridiculous “illness care” model. We are turning into that mythic civilization armed with superior technology and a head firmly placed in the sole spot where the sun won’t shine. As our Indian brethren say, “what to do, what to do?”
The last couple of years have been brutal on all of us. The stress has been intense and it is only partly thanks to the economy. The speed at which things are unfolding have been heinous on our nervous systems and psyches. Insomnia is rampant, as is anxiety, and I am not talking about the underlying existential anxiety we all attempt to cover up with constant activity, this is the industrial strength stuff. I can’t help but feel that if some event knocked us “offline” without our favorite drug to numb ourselves with, a chunk of the population would lose its mind right off the bat.
After a quarter century of bearing witness to the innermost workings of people’s minds, I have learned to never underestimate our attachment to deep suffering. It seems we just can’t get enough of that stuff. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy scaring myself and those around me, spitting out statistics about the looming disasters in an attempt to back my Proustian scenarios, just as much as the next guy. And yet, as I look back at it, I can’t help but see this to be little more than a poor attempt at control and negative pleasure.
People tend to deal with this kind of stress in one of two ways: by either distracting themselves even more or by pulling back a bit and slowing down (this plays out at the rate of about 99 people opting for more distraction to the 1 actually slowing down). The person that slows down usually gets his ass kicked into submission, and not by some superior act of willpower or heroics.
How do we distract ourselves? There are ever-present activities, such as incessant thinking, physical running around, and multi-tasking. There are the cultural accepted norms of addiction, such as overworking, overeating, coffee, alcohol, etc. The nonstop playing of music, without actually setting aside attention to enjoy it, can be another constant distraction. And there is the almighty Internet, within which we find Facebook and all those other narcissistic, “pseudo-intimacy” tools that we all love to mainline into our brains.
The use of a super computer disguised as a phone seems to be the “drug a la mode” these days: Blackberrys and iPhones, the vessel within which all of our addictions merge into one mobile dispensary comprised of incessant music, conversation, and seemingly limitless Internet use. I am no Luddite, but I finally drew the line a month ago when I observed a couple with two young kids literally spend their whole dinner on their crack phones in a restaurant, and that was after walking by and seeing five guys doing the same thing at another table they were sharing. Really? Are things that pressing, that even at 8 PM we find ourselves having to attend to them? Do we need to sacrifice physical intimacy?
Here is a suggestion: spend five minutes a day and be with yourself. Simply feel your body, especially your feet on the ground. Soften your belly and drop your breathing down there and out of your chest. Listen to and really hear all the sounds around you, be they traffic, a clock ticking, or an A/C humming. Reconnect with this stranger you call yourself. You will be amazed at how much your body and mind can benefit from this simple exercise. You do have to set aside a specific time every day; otherwise you will never do it. Because of course, we are too busy running around numbing ourselves.
Want to really go wild? Have an electronic Sabbath one day a week. Cease carrying, mindlessly and addictively staring at, or using any of these communication tools, one day of your weekend. You can do it, really. Maybe a whole day might be too much without medical supervision. You can certainly begin doing it for one hour every day and attempt at rebuilding a relationship with yourself. With time, gradually increase your withdrawal. Symptoms can include anxiety, restlessness, boredom, grumpiness, and deep fatigue - did I mention anxiety? But they do pass, followed or accompanied by a sense of serenity that is beyond delicious. Just remember, easy does it. One step at a time.