spirituality technology

Technology Wants to Steal my Soul

Over the years, I’ve regularly had to come face to face with my tendency for addiction to technology. Facebook, Instagram and digital games all have had their way with me. Mobile phones and other devices are insidious little creatures, worming their way in through my eyes and affixing themselves to the more easily seduced parts of of my brain. For a long time I thought that the biggest problem with these devices was the “time suck,” the hampered productivity, the fact that time spent on them could much better be spent doing something else. I’ve come to see that the main problem is a spiritual one. These devices interfere with my ability to be awake to my own life.

The true value and depth of spirituality is in the cultivated ability to be fully present to one’s own life, with one’s in-the-moment experience, with one’s feelings, thoughts and movements. If you’re wise, you won’t spend your time striving to become “enlightened.” You’ll leave that to gurus and their followers.

Much like Christ’s chalice wasn’t studded with precious jewels, the holy grail of this human incarnation is quite ordinary. It is very simply learning to be awake and present to the unfolding of your own life.

There is a divine simplicity, a lushness of experience that awaits. Some of you may know what I am referring to, but just to try to be clear, it’s the feeling that shows up when the mind slows and you simply rest in an awareness of your own presence. This felt sense of ourselves in the present moment is the most important capacity we can cultivate for a life fully lived, cherished and enjoyed. It is exactly this felt sense that disappears as we surrender our experience over to a device.

Sleeping With The Enemy

I know I’m not alone with how easily I can distract my days away. If I sleep with my phone next to me, I arouse her like a lover pre-dawn, caressing her screen with loving touches of my fingertips. Once I have her attention, I catch up on the news crises of the day, scroll through posts, respond to emails, message friends, and research this and that. Before I know it, a couple of hours or more may have passed and I emerge from bed feeling jilted and in a bit of a digital fog (see: Walking Around in a Digital Fog). I also carry my phone with me most everywhere I go and reach for it as impulses arise for contact or information. Its most insidious nature is how it so effortlessly fills in a gap where anxiety might lurk. If some uncomfortable thought or feeling arises, reaching for the phone can be like mainlining a sedative, adroitly intervening between myself and the inquietude I may unconsciously prefer to avoid.

Spiritual teachers often suggest following one’s breath as a practice because it has a remarkable way of silencing the mind and bringing us back to ourselves, to experiencing a felt sense of our own in-the-moment existence. We are constantly surrounded by beauty waiting to be witnessed. Without that sense of presence, we miss that beauty, we miss the unfolding sense of all that passes before and through us. Of course we may be physically present, but with our minds chasing worries and thoughts both past and future and our devices hijacking our time and attention, we lose the capacity to actually bear conscious witness to our lives.

Confession Time: I’m not writing from a perspective of having come out on top of all of this. I usually consign writings to the (s)crap heap when they sound too “know-it-all” or preachy, or when I sound to myself like a bit of an imposter. In this case, I’ll straightforwardly admit that I’m not where I want to be on this issue yet. Case in point, as I type I’m in a restaurant eating lunch and my phone (which I’ve looked at 3 times in the past 10 minutes) is on the table right next to me.

Thich Naht Hanh, the venerable Vietnamese Buddhist Monk likes to suggest what he refers to as “Noble Silence”. One of the basic practices of Noble Silence is to simply do one thing at a time. When walking, just walk. When talking, just talk. When doing the dishes, just do the dishes. Or in my case right now, when eating, just eat (fail!). As a practice, I encourage you to try walking or doing any of these actions without thinking, since thinking is just another covert form of doing. When you walk without the distraction of your own thoughts, you can actually experience yourself walking. As a lovely side bonus, when thinking stops, the visual world in all its glory seems to magically appear before us. As a good faith gesture, I’ll now shut the lid of my laptop and simply eat {laptop closes……….long lunching break…………} Ahhhhh, that was an immensely more pleasurable way to enjoy a meal! As I ate though, I noticed how my mind’s thinking continuously subverted my attempts to simply be with the process of eating. I repeatedly had to reel in my mind and come back to the meal and my eating.

Welcome Home

I remember a meditation teaching by Ram Das where he suggested not getting down on yourself upon realizing that you’ve been distracted from your aware self. In that moment, simply say “welcome home” to yourself and be pleased that you’ve returned. It is that welcome home feeling that is so important to cultivate. We all have that home, that tranquil place inside that simply and wordlessly says “here I am.” It is the most safe and kind place we can know. As anxiety or other challenging feelings arise in life, the home place within each of us can bear witness without getting caught up. It offers pure calm and stillness within the storms of life. It is the distractions of our lives, and especially the distractions that technologies so seductively offer, that keep us from that home feeling, from the sacredness of being fully present to our lives.

At this point in life, while I’m far from free of the allure of technology, I don’t spend hours each day gaming on my phone, nor scrolling through Instagram, Twitter, SnapChat or Facebook. It isn’t because I have sufficient self control. In fact, my self-control is quite suspect when it comes to these addictive platforms. What I’ve learned to do is very elemental but effective: I limit my access. The key to any healthy diet is very simple: Do not buy anything to eat that is unhealthy. If you buy M&M candies, you will eat them. I will eat them. I will eat yours! It’s pretty simple.

The addictive, craving, compulsive parts of our brain run the show of our lives, almost entirely without our explicit consent, so it’s important to not offer much for them to latch on to. When M&Ms are in a bowl on a table, at some point during the day my rapacious little fingers will fish out some of those unholy morsels and place them in my mouth. Technology for me is very much like that bowl of M&Ms. If I make access easy, I will assuredly indulge.

So Now What?

Last week I deleted the Facebook app from my phone. This follows having deleted Instagram about six months ago, my news reader a year ago and all games from my phone about two years ago. I can always log into Facebook on the computer and also receive messages through their Messenger app, but the point is to at least get the endlessly scrolling technological distractions out of easy reach. I even stopped using an iPad a few years ago simply because it made distraction too sexy, too alluring.

These apps and tools have a way of conniving their way back onto my phone. Twice I’ve removed the Facebook app only to rationalize it’s reinstallation, once to post an invitation for an event I was hosting and another for selling items on the Facebook marketplace. Once there, regular and mindless use gradually reasserts itself. Although I have removed my basic news reader, I recently subscribed to the New York Times and installed their app on my phone, using the rationale of supporting investigative journalism. Truth be told I was also a bit caught up in my own rising indignation within the persistent doomsday news cycle. I also subscribed to and installed the Medium app after beginning to upload new articles there. Without Facebook dangling limbic rewards in front of me, I am now free to now leisurely distract myself through the NY Times and Medium. I can rationalize wanting to stay informed, but the truth is that these apps make it way too easy for me (remember the M&Ms) to spend hours on end nibbling away at distracting online information.

These devices are insidious and addictive. The more I use them, the further I get from the ability to live my life presently and with awareness. While societies at large are gradually catching on to the addictive nature of these devices and their apps which tantalize and beckon, what we largely fail to grasp is that the “connectedness” on offer has the unfortunate effect of profoundly disconnecting us from access to our more spiritual selves. Without that connection, we end up in a digital fog, losing access to our capacity to be awake to the unfolding of our own lives and the depth of real-time life experience which awaits.

4 replies on “Technology Wants to Steal my Soul”

Ted – this happened to be a very timely article for me and my family. I loved your insights, particularly the last one in bold. I find that the connectedness that technology promises is a mirage. The connections tend to be very shallow, despite being more plentiful. For me, the abundance does not compensate for the lack of depth. Keep writing! You have wisdom to share!

For some, the connections that technology offers are almost a lifeline, especially for those who are more isolated in general, but there is absolutely a cost. This article doesn’t even get into the fact that like a diet of M&Ms, the food which media serves up is often designed to scare others (news) or make us feel insecure compared to the shiny happy lives of others (Instagram). Facebook seems to do both. Thanks Steve.

Thank you for this part of technology where you’re blog can be read, received, offer truth and beautiful reminders to be present. It’s truly the most enjoyable time I appreciate technology. I miss the times of letter writing and getting one in return. I do appreciate Zoom for some meeting purposes. Classes and such I prefer the field of the group sans technology. Perhaps we will be tech beings someday however I long for Sunday’s when stores were closed and TV went off the air at night. All in our hands now. It’s laughable how True Nature consistently unfolds and we continue to attempt to fill up in new ways. ‍♀️

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