This technological age is really messing with our capacity to be present to our own lives and we all seem to be unaware of it. In my opinion, we are actually forfeiting the vibrancy of our lives in favor of digital/visual distraction.Over the past several years, I’ve paid attention to my experience of awareness and it’s relationship to the visual field. By awareness, I am referring to a state of being present to one’s experience, of being aware of and sensing with clarity one’s experience as it is unfolding. A couple of years ago, I wrote a post while in Thailand that I called: “Getting the Mind out of the Way of Sensing” where I first began to explore the relationship between the visual field and awareness.
Yesterday afternoon I had a strong urge to simply get out of the house. I was feeling a little disoriented after having been inside all day, working on some projects and spending much time on the computer, writing, emailing, facebooking, and researching an on-line project I’ve been trying to create. I ended up going to a local Zendo for a meditation and dharma talk and while there I noticed that I still felt disoriented and was having difficulty attending to what was being said. When I returned home and went for a walk along the ocean, I noticed how I was able to control my movement in and out of an ability to see things clearly. As I played with it, I recognized that it is my mental fog which is causing a lack of clarity in my visual field. The fascinating part of this is that I was able to connect it to my time spent on the computer.
Even though our eyes may be open, we often aren’t actually seeing. As I stood by the ocean, I scrinched up my eyes a little which had the effect of bringing my awareness away from the visual field and instead into my mind/thoughts. When I relaxed my eyes, my awareness was able to return to the visual field and I could again be present with my visual experience. I stood there going back and forth, back to experiencing the locus of awareness in my mind and forth to experiencing the locus of awareness in being present with the visual field. It was pretty trippy to move in and out of awareness like that. It didn’t stop there, however, in that when my experience was in my mind rather than in the visual field, I felt nauseous and disoriented, which was akin to the feeling I had had earlier in the day which subconsciously informed me of the need to get out of the house.
Now for the coolest part. While standing there, I could actually move into and out of feeling the addictive pull back to the computer. While in that visually disoriented state, I could sense not only the urge to go back to the computer, but the relief that doing so would provide. The disorientation and slight nausea would go away and I’d be fine again. In and out, back and forth I went with this experiment and for me it was unmistakably true: when the nausea of disorientation would appear, I could sense the strength of the pull to go back to the computer.
With successfully addictive drugs, the consumption of the substance produces a state that becomes uncomfortable when the state goes away, keeping the consumer coming back for another fix, over and over again, thus maintaining comfort and avoiding discomfort. In the case of visual-related addiction (computers, iPhones, television, video games, etc.), that discomfort is found in subtle (or not so subtle) states of disorientation.
The unfortunate consequence here is how this disorientation in our visual field affects our capacity for presence and awareness. When we lose our capacity for presence with our visual field as happens when we spend an excess of time with electronic distractions, we leave our awareness behind. We become subtly (or not so subtly) disoriented. That uncomfortable disoriented feeling is easily alleviated by returning again to the electronic world and so we are pulled back for even more, yet another fix.
I recall a feeling from my childhood which I have always associated with the Saturday afternoon television show “ABC’s Wide World of Sports.” I remember very distinctly the feeling that would arise after watching that show, which I believe ended about 4:30pm. If I had been inside all day watching television, by the time that show ended, I would feel a little sick to my stomach. It was this same disoriented feeling I have been describing which seems to come from relinquishing my awareness to an outside mode of visual entertainment/distraction.
That ocean walk yesterday evening, followed by a quiet night spent with a friend baking bread, eating dinner and just hanging out and talking was just what I needed to begin to come back to myself and break the disorientation and subsequent addictive pull. I was excited to get up in the morning and start writing this, but part of that excitement was in the pull to get back to the computer. There will be much less time here today and there will be a long walk in nature for me instead.