Friction

 

It isn’t supposed to be like this. This isn’t supposed to be happening. This isn’t supposed to be here. It’s not supposed to be so difficult, so… How many times a day do we think or believe some version of that? Some story around how things should, or could, or must be, different. Other, than how they actually are.

If it would all just go our way immediately and seamlessly, be more to our liking, then, finally, things would be better. Easier. More of what we really deserve, need, or want.

But what if there is a reason? What if there is a point for all the stuff we do not like or want? What if we are not far-thinking enough to know that not having it as we want it, when we want it, is precisely what we need; for one reason or another. And what if, finding a way to include all of the things that we do not want, serves as an avenue for getting clearer on what we really do want, believe in, or value? What if what we want, and do not want, are two inseparable sides of a necessary coin?

Likely there is not a single one of us who has not lived through what we did not want. What we found to be harmful, disappointing, overwhelming, frustrating, offensive, and more. Something that we felt just should not be as it is. And then, how many of us, by living through what it was that we did not want, come to have a clearer picture of what we really did want. That there was a gain to be had by being in association with something that made us uncomfortable. Something we found undesirable. Impossible. Unbearable. Difficult. Inconvenient.

But now, as “luck and good fortune” would have it, it seems as though we are about to be in the historically “enviable” position of being the first humans beings on the planet to live a “friction-less existence” as promised to us by the makers of Siri, Alexa, and other technological personal assistants. It seems we are on the threshold now of an existence that will no longer require us to put up with the things in daily life that we find inconvenient, require too much of our effort, or that try our patience. That our smart new assistants will pave the way for a friction-free life. And we will finally be happy. Free of everything that disturbs.

Is this an ideal we should be aspiring to? Is this a value we want to pass onto the generations to come? And when we are considering all that we are gaining here, in the true fashion of looking at both sides of the coin, what does the other side say in terms of what we might be losing?

In discovering what is being lost, can we then go on to claim what we never want to let go of in the first place?

Of course, none of the ads for our new and improved lives with our ever-available, on-call assistants will ever mention that even with all of our new ease and conveniences, happiness remains ever more an inside job. One that is born of our own making, and one that by nature cannot be had by whisking away what disturbs. One that cannot be promised to us by another. Even if that other is as “smart” and infallible as a machine.

It is also worth considering that in modern times we are equating never having to wait to receive a purchased online good, having immediate access to any song ever written, or any question we might have be spoken aloud and answered instantaneously, with what makes for an amazing life. A redefining of our lives is occurring here through the screen technologies that presupposes life would be better if we should never want, or wait, be disturbed, or go without.

Is this true, possible, or even desirable to expect?

 

Inspired by The Abraham Teachings

We Belong To Each Other

 

I have been teaching at the college level for more than a decade. It has been an incredibly rewarding experience for me on so many levels. And yet, I am back wondering again, as I have been over the past couple of years, just how long I will continue in this role given the accelerating changes I am seeing in the students who are showing up before me.

Over the years, I have witnessed a noticeable decrease in attention. I have watched as they have grown increasingly sleep deprived. I have born witness to the growing attitude that they would rather be elsewhere, and doing other things; mainly, and by their own admission, wanting to get back into bed, back to a screen, and more often than not, both. I have felt and heard of their lack of interest and enthusiasm for the college experience. I have observed in the halls during the times between classes how they are more interested in being bent over a device than they are in hanging out with friends, or taking a moment for themselves.

While all of this has been, rightly so, cause for much concern, truly it pales in comparison to what I have been up against in one of my classes this semester. That being behavior that would be more “appropriate” to middle school (if that case can even be made), than it is to college seniors. I have been required daily to handle such things as students talking when another is talking. Students who are more interested in their side conversations than they are in paying attention to what is being taught. Along with students who regularly miss class, and come late without a thought to check in with me, or explain why.

As appalling as all of this has been, it gets worse. Much, much worse. A core group of students from this particularly difficult class have been regularly smirking and nudging each other, quite openly I might add, over another student in class whose very way of being they have deemed worthy of their ridicule. Their disdain and disregard for this student’s basic worth and humanness has been ongoing. Their complete lack of awareness has been chilling; right down to the fact that they do not even possess the common sense and the decency to know that if they are making a choice to demean another, they should at the very least be making attempts to hide what they are doing. That at least would be a step up for it would demonstrate that they knew what they were doing was wrong. But no such thing has been in evidence.

Despite a number of interventions on my part, this has continued.

And so last week, when it occurred again, I asked the student who was being targeted if he would do me a favor and get something from my car. I did this so that I could speak to the class without him being present. and therefore potentially, humiliated. Once he was gone, something inside of me erupted with such force that I had to pace the room and pause regularly to keep up with the intensity of what was moving through me. I remember very little of the specifics of what I said, but what I do remember was the poignancy of my hand over my heart and the message: We belong to one another. And what is being done here is unconscionable, and will not continue.

In this time of terrible and caustic lack of basic human decency and civility toward one another, whether in the real world or the virtual one, it has trickled down and is overtaking our children. What will become of us when there no longer exists a generation who has the basic foundations for how to respect another human being? A kind of respect that both includes and honors our differences. And one, by the way, that cannot be remediated through programs offered, but that must be lived, taught, and demonstrated in our homes and in our communities.

Do you know what the kicker is? The student who was being targeted, when I took him into the hall to ask him if he would do me a favor, worriedly looked at me and said, “Did I do something wrong? Am I in trouble?” I can barely think on this as the injustice around the person being harmed being the very same one wondering whether or not they have done something wrong, scrapes at me so deeply as to be almost unbearable.

Postscript: Not one of the students, directly or indirectly, involved in making fun of this student has yet to step forward. I find this to be perhaps the most troubling of all. For as human beings we are sure to make many, many mistakes with one another. We can absolutely count on that. Therefore, the true reveal of our character and mettle is born out of and demonstrates itself in our ability to self-correct when confronted with the truth of what we are doing. To re-do, re-work, and make repair for the mistakes and the atrocities we create with one another.

And yet, in this case, not one has stepped forward. Not one.

 

(Thank you to Vici for nudging me along on this one.)

Ignorance And Addiction

 

Ignorance: the state or fact of being ignorant; lack of knowledge, education, or awareness.

Addiction: compulsive need for and use of a habit forming substance.

One of the requirements of the college course that I teach is that the students must leave any and all devices in their bags in the room next door. I instituted this policy years ago for several reasons. One. As long as the devices are around, on or not, the screens and what they offer is what the students are thinking about. Two. They can be on their devices 24/7, but they can only do what we are doing in this class twice a week for an hour and fifteen minutes. Three. As the grown up in the room I have determined that this is an essential boundary to create so that the learning environment is honored and protected; giving the students a chance to not only engage in a direct way with what we are doing, but as importantly these days, to know themselves separate from the pull and the distractions of the devices.

This week, a new player arrived on the scene: the iWatch.

After class, it came to my attention that two students were checking their iWatches while we were in the midst of doing a relaxation technique. As I was describing this to my husband later that day, he said to me “That is so disrespectful.”  I admit that when I was thinking about this behavior the word “disrespectful” did cross my mind, but I realized quickly that what these students had done had absolutely nothing to do with respect.

An issue of respect would have been a step up on their part. It would have implied that they knew something and could act on that knowing. It would have meant that they knew to value and esteem what was happening in the room, and could tailor their actions accordingly. It would have required that they understood how their behavior might be impacting others, even if they themselves did not value what was happening in class. It would have necessitated understanding that a teacher would expect their full attention. Most of all, it would have challenged them to see that their life was worth far more respect than many of them give themselves, and that learning a way to relax held the potential of improving their lives.

But do you know what I am seeing? I am seeing that they do not even know that it is disrespectful. Or that they do know, and that they just cannot help themselves. I do not know which is worse. Because either way, what we are talking about here is a familial and societal breakdown around the essential role we as the grown-ups are meant to play in the lives of our children. A role that requires that we both teach them what to value and respect, while protecting them from their own ignorances as well as untoward external influences.

Instead, we are failing to educate and impart the most basic and important types of knowledge and levels of awareness to our children. Simultaneously, we are cultivating, or at least colluding with, addiction.

Where have all the grown-ups gone?

FOMO

Fear of Missing Out.

In our attempts to keep up with what the technologies demand of us now, we have tapped into and amplified a kind of deep inner tension and primal human fear that seems to sit squarely on our chest, day in and day out. And it is one that we are passing on to our children. That being, the unbearable terror of being left out of the loop. Of not knowing something. Of being “excluded.”

Does it in any way strike you as ironic, or perhaps more to the point, sad, that the more ways that we can know and connect to one another, the more intense the fear of missing something, or of being left out has grown? With our virtually infinite number of ways to gain access to anything and anyone now, there is still the ever-present fear that, if even for a moment you step away from your device, don’t bring it with you, or god forbid don’t answer or check something that comes in, that you will miss something that you cannot afford to miss.

Can you allow yourself to take a step back and feel all the way through you the intensity and the burden that this places on a life? And for a moment, can you imagine the enormous, indelible, and fear-based imprint this is leaving on our children? The anxiety, the vigilance, and the imprisonment that this generates within their growing psyches? And can you extrapolate out to how all of this leads them to believe that there is one recourse, and one recourse only; remain on guard and ever-attached to the demands of the machines. Always. No matter the cost.

No matter the way that it interferes with their ability to think their own thoughts, or to organize their time as they see fit. No matter how this interferes with sleep or with the experience of spending uninterrupted time with another. No matter the way that they, like Pavlov’s dogs, are continually at the beck and call of pings as opposed to the call of their own soul.

Think this one through. Or better yet, as an experiment, step away for a time, and see what happens. And if this feels too extreme for you, begin by asking yourself one simple question; “Realistically speaking, what am I most likely to miss out on, the vast majority of the time?” Another political rant? Another recycling of the same old themes in the news hopped up to make them seem as if they are new and worthy of your attention? A cute emogee? A post about how great and care-free another person’s life is, or how “amazing” their child is? A string of time-wasting, inane, throw-away, or insecure texts? A ridiculous picture or another stupid video that you just have to see, right now? A tweet from someone that you do not, and will not, ever know?

It just goes on and on.

It is time to get real with this one. Especially for our children. Otherwise, both they and we are doomed to suffer through the most obscene, asinine, time-consuming, and soul-sucking experiences that have ever been available to human beings. All of this happening every single day of our lives, and all in the service of never, ever, missing out on a single thing.

Interestingly enough, and despite all of our best efforts to keep up with the output being generated through the screens, we may just find that, in the end, we have indeed missed out. That we were, in fact, justified in our fears around missing something. Only, it will not be what we imagined. It will be something far worse.

 


 

 

Spaciousness

 

The space to do nothing. The space to be bored. The space to learn about yourself and the world without time lines, marketing agendas, or too much outside influence. The space to be on your own or with others without a lot to do. The space to get comfortable with yourself, by yourself, without the need for externals to make you OK. The space to feel. The space to just be. As is.

This is one face of childhood. And it is life-giving in its offerings of inner resourcefulness, ease within your own skin, the ability to know your own mind, the capacity to be with the up and down rhythms of Life, and so much more.

This is not an easy thing to find in a world that is suspicious and intolerant of nothing to do. Or having too much time on your hands. Or allowing for quiet. Or for welcoming stillness and solitude. Not to mention the epidemic of fear around feeling. Yet, when I look back and remember the unfounded concerns that I had that my children were not scheduled into enough things, or were missing out because they were not on Facebook, or learning about the world through the computer, I would tell that young mama, and all the ones like her, to rest easy. Why? Because this older and more seasoned mother knows some things as reflected by the way her young adult children are moving through the world now. The ways that they can keep their own company and be with life without trying to get out of it. The ways that they do not make themselves so busy that they cannot feel what they are feeling, or know what they are knowing.

In a week where I read that almost half of our children now will suffer from a mood disorder, a behavioral problem, or substance abuse, I am struck by the contradiction in this statistic with the conversation I had with one of my own children currently in the midst of a difficult romantic break-up. In our conversation, they spoke over and over again of letting themselves be with the process, giving themselves time, letting the hurt be there while knowing simultaneously that some day it would end. In sum, an awareness of, and an ability to be with, what is difficult. Space created to be with and feel what is there without looking for an escape route.

We live in a time when our children never have to feel anything they do not want to, nor develop a skill set to be with those very same unwanted feelings. In a time where because of the seemingly infinite ways of the modern world to keep them busy, entertained, distracted and checked out, they never get the experience of spaciousness in childhood. And it shows.

It shows in how they are more interested in what is coming across a screen than what is right in front of them. It shows in all of their fears and in their inability to be with themselves.Through the devices, there are far too many ways for our children to numb out and distract themselves when they hurt, bored, lonely, sad, angry, or disappointed. There are far too many avenues to never have to feel, or be alone, or to come up against yourself in any kind of a meaningful way.

Does it strike you at all that in a time of increased exposure to screens and all that that opens our children to, we have increasing levels of mood disorders, addiction, and behavioral problems? And while we can never point the finger at any one thing, do you see the possibility of a connection here?

What do you know to be true around the ways that the screens occupy, medicate, distract, and distort the beauty, necessity, and innocence of childhood itself?

As parents, if we can give our children a foundation of spaciousness, allowing for their childhood life to organically reveal and resolve itself, we give them the gift of knowing not only that feelings come and go, but that they have the capacity to meet what comes their way. This will never be possible in a world where keeping your children busy, over-scheduled, and glued to a screen is often seen as the best way to prepare them for life.

Distractions

 

Bear with me as I cycle back to the woman from the yoga class that I struggle with. This past week, true to form, she comes in late, creates a little disturbance as she sets up, and then gets back up, goes to her bag, and pulls out her cell phone. She starts checking something, and than makes an audible sound as if to signal that this important thing has come in, and even though it is an inconvenience, she must absolutely attend to it. Right now. She then steps just far enough outside of the room, but not so far that her conversation cannot be heard by the rest of us.

My mind is exploding. It is like a feral animal locked in a cage as it hurls itself around this topic. I am lining up all of the ways that I am going to approach the teacher, and maybe even the studio owner. I have got this cold. My argument is irrefutable. Her transgressions egregious and worthy of reproach. Her awareness of others so non-existent as to be justifiably offensive. Her behavior so very un-yogic. And then…

I notice myself. I see how much attention I am giving this and I begin to wonder why. Suddenly, it hits me. My body is struggling today. Muscles are stiff, and things that usually are not a problem, are hurting. As I turn towards all of this bodily sensation, I am moved to emotion by how much we must navigate each and every moment of every single day as part of the human experience. Some things desired in terms of the sensations we feel. Some things not.

That is when it dawns on me that it is much easier to be railing against her than it is to be in my own body. It is much easier to blame another for the experience I am having. It is much easier to distract myself from my own experience than it is to be with what is too uncomfortable to be with.

It is so human to want to get away from the intensities of being in a body. There is so much to be felt; other people, stress, traffic, weather, politics, pollution, body ailments, moods, emotions, mind states, and more. A continuous stream of sensation that never ends. And depending on how we are choosing to live, that stream will be more or less intense. More or less confusing. More or less tuned into as a source of information and guidance

So, what are we to do given, that through our use of the screen technologies, it has never been easier to distract ourselves from ourselves? How are we to be with the truth of our bodies, and what it is to be alive? Maybe you can try what one of my college students came up with. On her screen she has the words “Turn Over.” Every time she picks up her phone, she sees this, turns her phone over, and reads the sticky note she taped to the back. There, she finds the big, bold question “Why are you here?”

Who We Are

 

I am no longer what I once was. I am not yet what I will be. I can only be as I am in this moment. This comes to me in a yoga class as I am looking out over my life around where I have been, and who and what it is that I am trying to grow into.

Have you ever noticed how often people angst over what has come before, along with how often we long for what is yet to come? How many of our thoughts go to revisiting, living in, or fighting with, what came before? How much of our attention centers around anticipating, struggling with, or glorifying, what will be? And yet, we can only be whatever it is that we actually are in any given moment. We can only change, act, create, or anything else we can do or imagine, from this moment.

Can you envision what it would be like to get back all of the hours, days, weeks, months, and ultimately years, that you have spent in your mind in either the past or the future?

It is such a propensity of the ordinary mind to fret over the future, or to drag the past around. Both are a trap. Neither offers happiness. Or peace. Or anything else for that matter that we really want. And yet we do it, over and over and over again. Interestingly enough, as bad as this is for us, it is getting even worse. How? Through the amplification of both of these tendencies brought on by how we are using the technologies.

There was a time when you could leave your past behind. You could make the choice to break from who you were at a younger age, or from ways of being you no longer wanted to be associated with. No more. Everything we are doing is being documented. And saved. Indelibly imprinted on The World Wide Web. (Unless of course, you are rich enough or have the kinds of connections that can make anything go away, but not the kind of power most of us possess.)

And then there are all the ways that we can spend our days polishing and performing the ideal version of the us we most want others to see. We can create our future yearning, our idealized self without actually making a single change in how we are living. Without any of it actually being real.

I often joke with my college students, “Thank God, nothing I did in high school, college, or through my early twenties lives on through the Internet.” They laugh. Partly because somewhere they are nervous for themselves, and what they have posted. And partly because that admittance on my part, surprises them; for in many ways, and in the most important of ways, the woman that stands before them in no way resembles what came before. And that is exactly how I want it.

Why would I want to move beyond and away from aspects of my past? Because I want the freedom to be able to reinvent myself; to cast off aspects that were not the truth of who I was, and therefore who I truly am. I want the chance to move beyond old habits and ways of being that do not serve my current values and ideals. I want the opportunity to be different. I want the space to transform.

Don’t we all deserve this? The chance to remake and reshape ourselves into the best version that we can possibly imagine for ourselves? And to actually do it for real? By that I mean, not the fantasized versions that so many post, calling it them and a life, but honest to goodness transformation of who we are and how we live through real world blood, sweat, and tears.

The opportunity to move beyond our old selves and to claim a true and authentic representation of who we are is not just necessary for us, it is necessary for the world. We are here to learn and to grow in the service of our fullest expression with the result being a greater contribution to all of Life. How will this be possible for the generations coming up where everything they have ever done will follow them around like a bad smell for the rest of their lives? How will they ever be allowed to be solid with who they are at any given moment when the driving zeitgeist is to be constantly reinventing yourself in cheap, showy, unreal, and shallow ways; performing that out in virtual reality as the new and improved version of yourself?

Quantity vs. Quality

My children are in Nashville and Seattle. Sometimes we speak one or more times in a week. Sometimes several weeks will go by with no contact. I have no rules, nor any expectations around the number of connections we make within a specified time period. And when I am not holding myself up to what I often see happening around me, I feel the rightness of this for our relationship; for what I am personally after is quality, not quantity. What I am after is a give and take in relationship that honors where everyone is at; recognizing each person’s need for both sovereignty and interconnection, while understanding that that ebbs and flows over time.

This flies in the face of how many of us relate to one another now via our devices (With “to” versus “with” being the operative word). I hear this regularly from college students who text intimate others or parents multiple times a day; even when there is nothing to convey. It is less a communication than a neurotic, obsessive, dogged obligation. Too harsh? Maybe. But when you line up that for all of our ways to be in contact, too many of us do not allow, and are not allowed, any space to exist in the relationship outside of continuous contact, obligation gone bad becomes the most apt description of what is happening between us. For how else would we label how no to little time is allowed for anything of significance to arise or happen to us before we are back in contact again? How else would we label how we leave no to little time anymore to be on our own, or to digest an experience before we report it back out?

These same ever-in-contact students often talk about feeling harangued, dissatisfied, and burdened with so many obligatory and meaningless exchanges. But they find it impossible to break free as this way of doing things has become the new agreed upon currency of love and connection. Without which one risks violating a social norm of what it looks like to care. Without which one runs the risk of looking like there is not much of a bond between you and those you care about.

Why have we done this to one another? Why do we continue to do something that so burdens and diminishes what is between us? Why have we taken something so precious and so life-giving and reduced it down to a neurotic numbers game. Have we so little faith in each other? Have we so little faith in ourselves to experience life without immediately reporting out every last detail ad nauseam to anyone that we can text?

Texting is not talking. And quantity does not equal quality. It never has, and it never will.

Monsters

 

I am in the check-out line at the co-op this week. I often enjoy this time as I get to interact with all kinds of people; many of whom are twenty-somethings, and I love to hear what they are into. Some days it truly inspires me. Some days it truly breaks my heart.

On this day, when I ask the young woman how it’s going, she responds by saying, “Tired.” She then cheerfully adds, “But that’s OK-I’m always tired.” Even though I know that social etiquette would say that now it’s my turn to say something, I pause. She then picks the conversation back up by saying, “Well, it’s my own fault. My hobby keeps me up all night.” Hmm. At first I am wondering if it’s something like reading, knitting, cooking, or art. But because it somehow doesn’t seem to fit in with being up all night, I ask, “What’s your hobby?” She smiles a big, wide grin at me and says, “Gaming.” Pause. Pause. Pause.

Truly, I do not know how to respond. Where would I even begin? Since when has spending time in front of a screen been given the lofty designation of a hobby in the life of a human being? Since when did we collectively agree that depriving your body of one of its most basic and health-promoting needs is something to be proud of? And since when did women start jumping into a pathologically imbalanced male-dominated arena, leaving us now just as vulnerable as the men in making the wrong thing essential? It is so eerily reminiscent of women trying to be like men in the work force; ultimately putting us on the same level as them when it comes to rates of stress and heart disease.

Because the woman part hits me the hardest, I decide to wade into the pool on this one.

“Oh,” I say, “I haven’t run into many female gamers.” She tells me that’s because up until a few years ago it was really hard to break into the gaming circles if you were a woman, but that now it’s gotten way easier. “Why’s that?” I ask. Because, she tells me, the companies have figured out that they are losing money by not including women, so now they are much better at monitoring these sites and squelching bad and exclusive behavior on the part of male gamers.

“As a matter of fact,” she tells me, “there was a recent study that proves that the number of female gamers is the largest growing group. Even bigger than teenage boys!” She is absolutely glowing with pride as she tells me this. Pause. Pause. Pause. Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Oh, my God. “Now they’ve got the women,” is all that I can think. This is truly terrifying.

This precious young woman has not even begun to consider what this “hobby” of hers is doing to her physical health, and her ability to be in her real life in any kind of a meaningful way. She has not stopped to consider that the open access that the companies have created for her and other women like her is being done at the expense of not only her body, but her very heart and soul sensibilities as a woman. She has not stopped to consider that this league of which she is now a part is a littered graveyard full of wasted human potential.

The irony of it all? Her favorite game is Monster Hunter. What she loves most of all is the skill set she has developed. The one that allows her to identify where the demons are and, even getting good enough to be one step ahead of their clever, demonic, and dark adaptations at eluding extermination. Would that she turn these skills on the very real monsters that haunt and elude her in the real world, she might just have a chance of getting out with her very own life.

Why The Abdication?

 

In the wake of the most recent school shootings, there has been a strong and widespread response from our teens for #NEVERAGAIN. They are taking to the streets, and to their social media outlets demanding that what is happening be addressed. Now. Some postulate that with these teens coming into voting age in a few short years, this has the potential to shift politics; putting our politicians on notice that they had better get serious about making changes around gun laws. Or risk being voted out.

So much possibility here. And if this were to come to fruition, how amazing that finally we would see some real movement on an issue long overdue for change. And yet, one question aches to be addressed and answered. Why have we left this up to the children? Why has this generation been so systemically left on their own? Why have we, as the adults, not been the ones protecting them? Not being the ones to get this, and other things like it, done on their behalf?

There has been a strange and harmful reversal of the roles between parents and children afoot over the last generation. Instead of the adults claiming their position as the ones to be the grown-ups in the relationship, we opt to be their friends. Instead of us setting and enforcing, necessary ground rules around what they eat, when they go to bed, how many activities they can sign up for, and how much technology they can use, we ask them if it is OK, or what they think we should do around limit setting. Instead of us drawing lines in the world on their behalf to protect them, we look to them to change the world for us. And for them.

What has happened to us? Are we too busy? Too distracted? Too overwhelmed? Too brainwashed? Too addicted? Too afraid? Too disempowered? All of the above? In order for our children to be able to take a healthy stand in the world, they must first have the experience of someone standing up for them in a healthy way. Too often, as a culture, we are dazzled by all that our children can do and have taken on without recognizing that we have forced the bud; and with it all of the consequences associated with putting children into the role of the grown-up long before they are emotionally mature enough to handle that level of responsibility.

Could this be why so many of our young people are so disproportionately suffering from depression, anxiety, stress, sleep disorders, along with the overwhelming and bizarre fears they experience like no other generation has held in the way that they do? Let us never forget that when it comes to our children and the world they inhabit, it is always, and always will be, up to us.