Inviting a Monkey to Tea

Discovering lasting contentment

Technology: Your Mind on Crack

Breaking the addiction to distraction

If generating "to do" lists were an Olympic event, the human mind would surely take home the gold. While undoubtedly useful for many tasks, the mind is also an unsettled and frantic creature whose basic state is agitation. The mind is in a state of constant craving; desperately seeking something to do, fix or figure out. The mind is not wired to land here, but instead, always beckoning our attention into the past or future. The mind does not want us to live this moment directly, but rather seeks to turn this moment into a project about which something can be done, or alternatively, a statement about our identity. What do we need to do about this moment, what does this moment mean about our past or future, what does this moment say about what kind of person we are? These are the things the mind wants to know about now, but certainly not what now actually is. The mind acts as a moderator between our life and us. To the mind, being equals death—doing equals life.

Enter technology. Injecting technology into the human mind is like shooting a wild, agitated, drunken monkey with a thousand CC's of adrenaline. The mind is thrilled, but what about we who have to house that wild monkey?

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If you ask a crack addict what will make him well, he will tell you more crack, and he will be sure of it. The crack addict is the wrong one to ask what he needs. More crack will not make him feel well, but will only calm his shakes... for a short time. And then his suffering will return—with more ferocity. Similarly, the mind is the wrong part of ourselves to ask what will make us well. The mind tells us that more will satisfy us—more information, more entertainment, more choices, more everything. More will make us whole—and ironically—give us a place where we can rest and finally enjoy less. In truth, the mind is painfully mistaken. We do not need more frequent communication; we need deeper connections. We do not need more sound bites of forgettable information; we need more meaningful dialogue. We do not need more entertainment; we need to get interested in our own imagination and creativity. We do not need more ways to get away from ourselves and now; we need to meet ourselves and discover the wonder of this moment. Well-being can only live in this now and if we are not in it, we will never experience it. 

When I ask people what makes them feel truly well, I generally hear one of three things: connection with other people, creativity, and spirit-oriented activities. In all my years asking this question, never have I heard the answer: technology. People that spend all day checking and re-checking their devices—checking for what they do not even know—do not feel well at day's end. They are addicts seeking relief—relief ultimately from the belief that there is somewhere better, more important, more fun, or simply more bearable than here. At the end of all their frantic information and entertainment-gorging, they feel despairing and anxious—bloated yet ravenous and mal-nourished. Their addiction has grown stronger, along with their belief that something somewhere will complete them and offer them a place to—at last—be, if they could only find it.

Technology is breeding the addiction to distraction into the human species, just as you would breed long ears into a dog breed. It is breeding out the capacity to be with ourselves or anyone else, and worst of all, to be here, the stuff that true well-being is made of.

Our heart and spirit need something very different than what our mind craves. As a society, we are living entirely out of sync with what really nourishes and makes us well. The drunken, feverish monkey mind within us has taken over the controls and we are sailing into despair. An entertaining, lightning-paced, bespangled despair for sure, but despair nonetheless. It is up to us and well within our power to wrestle this life back from the misinformed (and suffering) monkey. As human beings who, unlike other species, have the incredible gift of awareness, it is our responsibility to stop bingeing on what is ultimately starving us, to dismount from the frantic wheel of distraction. If we tune into our deeper wisdom, we can see what the monkey is up to, the path the addicted mind is leading us down. We can then choose to change our course and turn our attention instead to those experiences that truly nourish us, that lead us back to our natural well-being—reacquaint us with our inherent wholeness. Let us tune in and make that choice!

Nancy Colier, LMSW, Rev., is a psychotherapist, interfaith minister and the author of Inviting A Monkey to Tea: Befriending Your Mind and Discovering Lasting Contentment.

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