This is not
the age of information.
This is not
the age of information.
Forget the news,
and the radio,
and the blurred screen.
This is the time
People are hungry
and one good word is bread
for a thousand.
(Loaves and Fishes, David Whyte)
“My people” say I am obsessed with my I-phone, text messages, face book and Rachel Maddow in election cycles. For holidays I get gifts like Kindles, I Pads, MP3 players, IPods. I admit powerlessness over some of this: “Hi, my name is Sue and I check e-mail hundreds of times a day.”
I haven’t always been addicted to such modern-day barrage. As an assignment in a course I took in 1999 called A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, I swore off books, TV and newspapers for a week. My classmates and I, all wanting this spiritual path, quit information-bingeing for seven days. Julia Cameron, in her Artist’s Way, calls this renunciation “reading deprivation.” She quotes Brenda Ueland: “We are always doing something, talking, reading, listening to the radio, planning what next. The mind is kept naggingly busy on some easy, unimportant thing all day.”
The teacher of our little group challenged us: “Can you make space for the practice of ‘absence’ in your daily and weekly schedule?”
For that brief time, we did. I stopped deciphering meditation instructions and simply sat to feel my breath coming in, going out. I didn’t ride in the passenger seat perusing the writings of Ram Dass preaching, “be here now.” I simply looked out the window at the snow-laden trees and dripping icicles. The discipline of ditching the usual distractions asks of us what any abstinence asks, a balance of will and surrender: “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can,” and “please help me not pick up that People magazine.”
I didn’t miss anything I had given up, although I automatically reached for the paper a few times as I walked by it on the dining room table.
Years later I read this from Andrew Weil, M.D.: “Been feeling stressed out after watching or reading the news lately? A ‘news fast’ – avoiding news on the television, newspaper or the Internet for a few days – may help renew your spirits.”
I newsfasted again, this time from the computer as well. Sure enough, with less static coming in, I felt lighter, quieter. I had more fun that week, and more time for my time. Prayer, Meditation. Yoga. Walks. Visiting my grandmother in a nursing home. Volunteering at a soup kitchen. Comforting my friend Annie after the death of her husband. Renewed spirit is good, I decided then.
But this is now. I have relapsed into the virtual world. So last month when I lost the sound on my PC, I wondered how I could survive without the latest TED talks, YouTubes and video postings on facebook. But I survived, thrived even. I’ve taken more deep breaths and long soul-nourishing lunches with my friends Nancy, Diane and Bonnie. I patted myself on the back for doing more selfless service: what Christians call the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy, what Jews call mitzvot, and Hindus call seva.
I was getting used to not having sound. Really. Then last week, in a determined mouse-clicking gesture, as I tried to clean up my e-mail contact list, I inadvertently pushed DELETE ALL. Every one of my connections disappeared. To be honest, I jumped off my chair and yelled, “NOOOO!”
Then I told myself, “This is a test. Can I really give up some earthly attachments to make time for more spiritual pursuits?”
Maybe. I do not want to be sucked into screen after anesthetizing screen, hour after hour of cyber-gazing. Yet I do crave my contact list and I do still hanker for information. Perhaps May Sarton’s words are bread for this hunger:
“I am moving
Toward a new freedom
Born of detachment
And a sweeter grace–
Learning to let go”
Maybe our antidote to media overload is to move toward a new freedom and to learn to let go. Now THAT is a spiritual path!