Inviting a Monkey to Tea

Discovering lasting contentment

Is Technology Worsening Our Basic Restlessness?

Are our devices training us to escape the moment?

The information age is to the human mind what the age of debauchery was to the human id. Our mind, jacked up on information, images, games, communication and all the other stuff that technology provides, is becoming an impulsive beast that has to be fed continuously. Previous to this explosion in technology, we, the larger awareness behind the beast, acted as its master, and determined when, if, and how it was fed. Because the mind wanted to research travel deals at midnight did not mean we had to get up and do it. Now however it’s flipped; the beast has got us in the cage and it is we who run around behind it serving its continual demands.

Because the mind has grown so strong and powerful inside us, it has become harder to turn the lens on the mind itself. The more technology the mind consumes, the bigger presence it becomes and consequently, the more it obscures the light of awareness. Unfortunately, we need to be aware of what our mind is up to. Our awareness protects and separates us from the mind’s tsunami of desires, and from our own susceptibility to them. The more food the mind gets, the more it reinforces its own power, telling us that it is justified in getting so much, that it is a good thing for it, for us to be so stuffed with stuff and focused on something external all the time. As the process continues, there is less room for dissention on our part. How we feel about the mind’s dictatorship eventually becomes irrelevant.

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Technology, with its enormous opportunities for distraction and being elsewhere, is the mind’s strongest ally in keeping us out of the present moment. You could say that technology is the mind’s partner in its detestation and fear of the present moment. Technology makes it far easier for the mind to get what it wants in this regard, that is, to get us out of now. But unfortunately, for us, the larger awareness behind the mind, taking us out of now also takes us out of the only place where we can actually experience wellbeing.

The mind’s comfort zone, its sweet spot, is always the past or future. It likes to think about what happened already, enjoying the thoughts, ruminations, regrets, lessons and the rest of what comes with the past. So too, the mind relishes (and gets to play a starring role) in a potential future, in thinking about what will happen, what needs to be done to make it happen, what can’t happen, and all the rest of the delights and fears that such a thinking party offers. For the mind, the past and the future are rich with goodies. The present however is a different story. When we are fully in the present moment, we are simply being—in whatever is happening; life unfolds before us and we are just part of it. Being here, now, we are not doing anything to make life happen, not deciding how to feel about it, writing the story of it, or making plans for it to continue or change. Just being is something that the mind ferociously resists. Understandably, as there is no place or role for the mind in such a non-doing place. With no role to play and nothing to do to make being happen, the mind senses danger, fearing that it will cease to exist if not needed to do life for us. If life is candy, the mind wants to be there to taste the candy, to tell us about the candy. But to just be the candy, be life? That would mean that there would be no mind there anymore to experience life for us. To this possibility, the mind cries a resounding “No!”

With its immediate, easy and instantly gratifying nature, technology encourages and supports the mantra of “What’s next?” Technology makes it possible to just keep moving, from one pleasurable and titillating experience to another, never having to come back here to be with “just” ourselves, “just” now. And so we do… just keep moving… from one source of entertainment to another. If we are not doing the next thing we are looking for the next thing to do. “What else is there?” has replaced “What’s here?” With our devices always ready, and it now societally acceptable to be “on” them all the time, that is to be somewhere else all the time, we no longer need to meet the present moment nor even notice our basic restlessness or discomfort with ourselves and being here.

We simply give the mind what it wants, medicate the monkey, throw it a toy, and move on. Unfortunately, knowing and being interested in our own mind, our own state of being, in how we are doing in the middle of this wildly changing world, is a large part of what makes us feel grounded and centered, two main components of wellbeing. This curiosity is disappearing as technology makes our own consciousness increasingly irrelevant.

As technology strengthens our ability to check out of now, it also strengthens our mistaken belief that somewhere else there is a better moment we could be living. The more we escape from the present moment, the more firm grows our belief that the present moment is lacking something, which then leads us to keep searching for yet another better moment. We are more convinced that there is some destination, some place perhaps we can find through technology, anywhere but here, that would provide us with satisfaction—some moment, some activity but not now and not this activity, where we could finally give up the search for a place to be and at last, just land. Technology not only provides us with the means by which to disappear from the moment but simultaneously, it supports us in blaming the moment and its inadequacy for our disappearance. As a result, we continue our futile search for a moment that will finally be right for us to inhabit.

Technology is rich with opportunities to expand positively. At the same time, it is rich with opportunities to expand negatively. We need to remain conscious of not just how we are growing for the better, but also how we are growing in ways that don’t serve us. We need to pay attention to what we are giving up as we welcome technology into our lives, and set it a permanent place at our table. Some of what we are losing is fundamental to our basic wellbeing, and may not be remembered or return if we agree to let it go.

Wellbeing can only exist in the moment. Technology encourages us to depart the moment. Wellbeing can only exist if we can be with ourselves and stay mindful of how we are. Technology leads us to disconnect from ourselves and place our focus on a continual stream of something else-s. Wellbeing requires that we not be dependent upon any substance to maintain our equanimity. Technology turns us into addicts who need the drug of technology in order to maintain a basic sense of okayness. Wellbeing is built on an experience of the present moment as whole and enough, a place where we can land. Technology creates an experience of the present moment as lacking, and not a place that is possible to inhabit—an experience that is the antithesis of wellbeing.

As we absorb the positive aspects of technology, we need to stay fiercely aware of its power to steer us away from our true needs. We must remain mindful of our own minds and careful not to be seduced into the unconsciousness that technology makes possible. Technology is powerful in its ability to form alliances with and strengthen aspects of the mind that profoundly challenge and disrupt our capacity to be well, to feel grounded, calm, centered, connected, in a word—good. If we stop being diligent with our self-awareness and choose to surrender into the temptation of pleasure and avoidance, to disappear into the addiction of distraction that technology offers, technology will end up leading us away from what makes us fundamentally well. Let us not slip down the rabbit hole because we can, because it’s easy and maybe even because it’s our mind’s nature. What is to be gained by staying awake, the sweetness of conscious wellbeing, far outweighs any game of "Candy Crush."

Copyright 2014 Nancy Colier 

 

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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