Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Post #52: Driven to Distraction

Over the weekend, I started reading a good book by an American Buddhist nun named Pema Chodron. In Taking the Leap, Chodron writes, "There are many ways to discuss the ego, but in essence...it's the experience of never being present. There is a deep-seated tendency, it's almost a compulsion, to distract oursleves, even when we're not consciously feeling uncomfortable. Everybody feels a little bit of an itch all the time. There's a background hum of edginess, boredom, restlessness."

Psychologically, this is fascinating, especially the part about us needing to distract ourselves even when we're not uncomfortable. It's understandable that we would want to distract ourselves to avoid pain, suffering, or boredom, but she's right in pointing out that we're in an era of pretty much constantly rejecting the form of life that we're directly experiencing.

I remember seeing a show a few years ago where a teenaged girl is in Europe with her family, and she gets her first glimpse of the Roman Colosseum. While the rest of her family is standing there experiencing awe, and just taking it all in, the girl immediately whips out her phone and starts texting all her friends about the fact that she's standing in front of the Roman Colosseum! A few minutes later, when her family is ready to move on, the girl is still texting away, never having actually seen the Colosseum. It was a virtual experience for her, not a real one. She'll walk away with the picture she took from her phone, but not a personal experience of the richly historical ancient treasure.

This is an extreme (but common) example of our compulsion to flee from the present moment, and you could say that kids and young adults are particularly guilty of this sort of distractability, but the reality is that we adults behave very similarly.

This morning, for instance, I was at the gym, riding the stationary bike for what I had decided would be 25 minutes. I was feeling healthy and content, enjoying people-watching out the window, feeling pleased with myself for being there, even digging the slight burning sensation of exercising my leg muscles. But then, inexplicably, I looked at the clock and started calculating exactly how many minutes and seconds were left until I'd be done, which suddenly became my goal.

I realized right away that this is what Pema was talking about. I had been perfectly happy to be where I was, doing what I was doing, and still there was a restlessness to get out of there and start doing something else. Anything else. Wow, that is messed up. And the irony is that I'm actually someone who values being present in the moment. Just ask my kids. They'll tell you that I'm always reminding them to embrace the present moment and not to "wish" their lives away.

So, how does this apply to you? Are you able to enjoy a real conversation (with someone who's in the room with you)? Can you eat a meal without multi-tasking? When you see a beautiful sunset, do you actually take it in, or or do you just take a picture of  it? And when your kids are telling you something that matters to them, do you listen?

This week, please join me in taking some time to tune into the present moment and focus on what's important. I believe we might just find that a lot of the busy-ness we're engaged in is fairly meaningless or unimportant, while a lot of the important issues and moments in our lives are neglected.

Enjoy your week.