What Are We Really Choosing?

 

I once heard someone say that whatever is behind any choice that we make is, in fact, what we have signed ourselves up to receive more of. Regardless of what we wanted, or thought we were going to get. In other words, if you make a decision based on fear, you have just signed up for more fear in your world. If you make a choice based on scarcity, you have just signed up to learn the lesson of lack. If you choose and act based on trying to appear better or different than you actually are in order to fit in, you have just signed up to learn about deceit and alienation.

Look at your life. Closely. How many times a day do you make choices that are not coming from what you really want, but are instead based on you trying to protect the downside? Or you trying to keep something from happening. How many times a day do you make choices that come out of reactivity, overwhelm, stress and busyness only to be met with more of the same? How often do you choose based out of denial, avoidance and disconnection? Have you ever linked up your motivations and mind states to the results that you are getting?

In the yogic tradition that I hail from, it is never about what you do. Instead, it is always about why you do what you do. This is the exact opposite of what we, and our children, are creating through social media where the “what” something looks like reigns supreme and above all else. Under the auspices of “connection,” what I would define as a mutual and reciprocal coming together for the benefit of both parties, more times than not, our use has more to do with spinning, glamorizing and inflating the self. Instead of a give and take in our interactions with others, there is a kind of side by side marketing of ourselves to each other and how it is that we want to be known.

What if we could really see that that every time we try and get people to see us through untruthful ways, we have just signed up for a falseness between us. And that every time we try to get a greater sense of belonging by garnering more likes and followers through misrepresentation, exaggeration and obsessive preoccupation with the wrong things, we have just signed up for an experience of isolation, fragmentation and dissatisfaction.

The technologies push and magnify our social buttons; our deep-seated and innate needs as human beings to be seen and to belong. For there to be any chance of the technologies benefiting us in this domain, we must become aware of the “whys” of the “whats” that we are engaging in. Further, we must recognize that our children are not yet capable of this distinction.

Freedom

 

When my children were around two and four, we had had a long stretch of rainy, cold weather on Cape Cod where we were living at the time. After several days of this, we were all so sick and tired of being together in the house that we were all feeling the strain with one another. And so, even though I had no plan, I piled everyone into the car and went for a drive. Somehow we made our way to the beach even though it was most decidedly not a beach day. But like they say, necessity (and a mother’s desperation) is the mother of all invention.

We got out and made our way onto the sand. Because I had not planned on coming to the beach, I had no food, no towels, no toys and no friends. This was something I had never done before, nor even considered, typically arriving at the beach with enough supplies for an army.

Hours later I had to drag them off the beach. From out of their own minds and bodies, and in collaboration with their surroundings, came exploration, companionship, curiosity, creativity and more. Everything they needed was inside of them; aided and brought forth by what was outside of them. It was a pivotal realization for me as a mother to witness just how little they needed, and just how big they could create out of virtually “nothing.”

We are harboring an undermining belief when it comes to our children. We believe that they require entertainment 24/7. We believe that they need lots and lots of externals to be satisfied. We think they need screens and gadgets to do it for them, believing they must be continually wowed, stimulated and done for in their play and interactions. All of this derails their own creativity, natural movement, and imagination, the forerunners of intellectual, social and emotional capacities.

This mentality is robbing our children of the joys that naturally arise in a childhood that is free from too many externals, done fors and distractions. And along the way, we are forgetting that the less they need to be OK, the better, happier and more imaginative they will ultimately be.

Why Can’t We Stop Ourselves?

 

You know, it is one thing to know all the reasons why something is happening, and it is quite another thing to actually experience it. That is why, in this day and age, when we have more information and more “reasons” than we can possibly make use of, there is nothing like a direct experience. There is nothing like watching yourself go through something. There is nothing like an embodied experience where all of you is present and included in what is happening serving as the platform that sees through the rationalizations, denials, intellectualizations, and justifications of the conditioned and habituated mind.

I flew down to visit my mother this past week and had three experiences with the screen technologies that still leaves me stunned and uneasy. On the flight down, I sat in front of the standard issue little screen embedded in the back of the chair in front of me. Looking around and seeing that every single screen was going makes it seem like they can only be in the “on” position. No choice. So, when I traveled last and discovered that despite there being no “off” position, if I dimmed the brightness all the way down, it felt like nothing short of a miracle when the screen finally went blank. Such relief washed over me.  I figured, well that’s that. Only, as it turned out, that was not that for this time because beside me and in front of me as far as I could see, the screens were on all around me. And for some reason I could not stop tuning into them. Even though my thoughts were trying to be on my own thoughts, or on my own breath, or what I was reading, my eyes kept finding their way back. It was as though I could not, not look.

When I got to my mother’s house, even though I do not watch TV and have not had TV for many years and actually never, ever think about it, suddenly with one in the bedroom with me, I thought about it quite a lot. I kept wondering what might be on. One night I even ended the day a little earlier so that I could have time to watch something. And even though on the first night of my arriving I was totally exhausted, and really just wanted to sleep, I turned it on. After passing through about 500 hundred channels and still finding nothing on, I settled for a movie I had seen before. A movie, by the way, that now was being interrupted with an obscene amount of commercials and that had scenes that had been deleted out. And even though I could feel the exhaustion, and was so annoyed with the experience I was having, I kept going.

Later in the week, while at the movies with my mother, a particularly disturbing trailer came on. I turned my eyes so as to not take in what I most definitely did not want to ingest, and I will tell you, it took all of my will power not to look back. I felt like the mythological character who goes into the underworld and who upon being released is told do not look back. Under any circumstances. And then does, because she just can’t stop herself. Even though she knows it will be really, really bad for her. And it is. She is turned to stone.

I know the research that talks about how when there is a screen around everyone’s attention goes right there. I know about the links made between dopamine, the feel good chemical, and our need to respond to anything and at any time that comes out of a screen. But I will tell you, when you are watching yourself committed and wanting something else, and still finding it virtually impossible to do anything else, that is a most disturbing and potent piece of information. And while it could be easy or tempting to reduce these experiences down to some personal failing on my part, I think I won’t. I think I will be with what I know to be true; this is beyond me.

“Everybody Changes”

 

My son was at a Super Bowl party on Sunday night with school friends. How great is that? Guy friends hanging out. All together. Or not. It seems that throughout the game, and especially during the historic comeback by the Patriots, many of the guys were busy “snapchatting” about their experience. For them, it was more exciting and hip,(not to mention emotionally “safer”) to be sending out messages via their phones about what a great night they were having then it was to actually be there and have a great night. These days, our children are learning to be more excited by, and interested in, orchestrating false and hyped-up versions of their lives. They are more enlivened at the prospect of playacting about how amazing it all is as soon as the cameras started rolling.The moments of our children’s lives are being drained away and reduced down to little more than times manufactured; as times captured by a screen, as opposed to actually living those times.

Afterwards, my son observed that “everybody changes” as soon as the phones come out and the videos start flowing. This so speaks to what we are all up against. We as people already struggle enough with all of the ways that we will shift ourselves when we feel observed or are trying to fit in. No age suffers this more than teenagers. Now, though, with the assistance of the technologies, our children can fabricate and spin themselves and their lives in ways unprecedented until now. They can build representations of themselves based on illusions, scripts, and made-up representations of what is happening or how they want it to look.They use the devices to try and get others to see them the way they want to be seen.

This taps into such a vulnerable place in all of us; that part of us that wants to control how others see us. The technologies are exploiting and magnifying the false notion that by presenting things a certain way, via the screens, we can manage and influence how others see us, and therefore, feel about us. In the meantime, the realities of the fears and insecurities we all experience around this, and that must get addressed if we are to feel secure in ourselves and in our relationships, gets paved over. So yes, the devices afford a momentary fix to the discomforts of how we are seen, but ultimately creates a dangerous false sense of security that some parts of us, way down deep, is absolutely aware of and uneasy with, despite how great we present ourselves to others.

It is exhausting our children for them to be living as if they need to be bigger than life. It is soul-sucking to have to smile broader and convey more excitement than you are actually feeling. They are growing up believing that life is supposed to be a reality TV show/rock video that they are starring in. And we all know far too well exactly what happens to those among us who lack the capacity for living the ordinary, unobserved, non-staged, hum-drum moments of life. How will they manage if they switch their feelings off and on based on whether or not they are being watched? How will they know the truth of their experience separate from the pretending, the mask, the camera ready face they so quickly take off and on?

 

“The only thing that Orwell failed to predict was that we would install the telescreens ourselves, and that our greatest fear would be that no one was watching.”

Poster In Louis’ Class at PVPA

 

 

A Tiny God

 

My childhood home had an enormous pine tree that grew in one corner of our backyard. It towered over the rose bushes, the fence, the bird house on a pole, our garage, and other trees. It felt to my little girl self as tall as a mountain. Amongst the shelter of its lower branches I felt safe. And known. The great pine and the ground beneath it was sacred to me, though that was not a word I knew or would have used back then. Over the years fallen needles had accumulated to build layers and layers of softness and comfort. When you walked under this magnificent tree, the ground was literally different than anything else you would walk on. It felt otherworldly to me. The layers of built up and decaying needles made it easy for a small girl to dig into the earth to bury things in her life that had died. It was here that I would come when our home and the ways of the world would overwhelm me. I felt held here. I felt heard here.

I never talked about my experiences in this place with anyone. There were no words for it. It was different than church where someone told me what to want and to feel and to pray for and to be ashamed of. In this place, there were no rules, obligations, expectations or have-to’s. Just a yearning revealed, recognized and met; one that I did not even consciously know I had. This experience was beyond the world. It was a way of being seen though there were no eyes. It was a place where I felt something way down deep that I did not feel anywhere else. At the time I thought it was the tree, which is why when it became infested and there was talk of needing to cut it down, I felt cleaved down the middle. I did not know then that while yes, something did exist there in that place, it was also in me. And while in the times to come that place would lie dormant and forgotten within me for many years, when the time was right, it was as though a seed that had been planted and forgotten suddenly found its way into its day in the sun.

The technologies consume our children’s hearts, bodies and minds while asking nothing of them and returning nothing to them by way of their spirits. To be so engaged and enthralled with something that requires so little of you is not the recipe for a strong moral character. It is instead the makings of a spiritual brat. Our children are being warped and drained spiritually at a very tender age. When they are young, a felt sense of the Great Mystery of Life is not something that has to be taught. They are it. Sadly enough though, what they come in embodying can be unlearned, which is what happens when we make the biggest and most meaningful thing in our children’s lives come from a machine. As Father Gregory Boyle writes, “God can get tiny, if we’re not careful.”

If there was ever an argument for avoiding and limiting screens in childhood this could be The One. Spirit sick and soul hungry children make for very unbalanced and unhappy grown-ups, no matter what their facility with technology is.

 

 

Virtually and Perpetually Distracted

I read this week that the video game Pokeman Go had 45 million players in its first 12 days, and that among a host of problems related to the scavenger hunt nature of the game in the real world, was that 110,000 distracted driving-related incidents had been reported in the first 10 days. I am left wondering so very many things. Things like what would it be like to garner 45 million people’s time and energies to devote to….?  Fill in the blank. Things like, are we so out of our minds with the siren’s call of the technologies that we would jeopardize innocent lives on the road? Things like, why do we have plenty of time for this, but often so little for what really matters most?

If there was one question that I could ask All of Eternity, it would be; “Why is it so hard to remember who we are and what it most important?” Why does it seem easier to forget than to remember? Why does it seem so “natural” to get distracted and to lose track of really important things like self-care, self-love, the health of the planet and the importance of each other? And why is that even when we want to do things differently, it can be so hard to change?

Almost 30 years ago I had the worst birthday of my life. It was my 25th. What made it so awful was that I became utterly unnerved and unhinged that a quarter of a century had gone by and that I had been asleep at the wheel. I hadn’t done anything worth mentioning. I hadn’t a clue about how precious and short-lived Life really is. After this difficult revelation, I made some changes. Some things stayed the same. Maybe even most things stayed the same. It was hard for me to line up in my own mind why it was that I saw the need to change, and that I wanted to change, but still found it so difficult to do so. It was just so easy to get distracted. It was just so easy to forget. For a,long time I beat myself up about not doing better, believing it to be some failing on my part that I could not just get to where it was I most wanted to be.

I see things differently now. Sure, there is lots and lots of research about how and why people change, and why they don’t. My sense, though, is that there is more at play than we usually recognize around what creates change. Something that is beyond the obvious of A+B=C. Something that is beyond a human hypothesis. Something that is beyond will and intention. Maybe it is built into us for some reason beyond our knowing to struggle like this. Maybe it is so the Universe gets to create through us. Maybe it is about choice at some level far deeper than most of us go. Maybe it is to learn forgiveness, or to ask for help. Maybe it has to do with some evolutionary shift that will occur in its own time no matter what we do. And maybe there is no reason at all.

Through all of this unknown around how it is that we remember to pay attention to our precious lives and how to keep shifting towards the expression of our truest nature, I know one thing for sure: The technologies are exploiting our weaknesses in ways too numerous to mention. By this I mean, all of the daily ways we use our devices to miss our lives, our health and one another. All of the ways that we do not know how to say no despite what it is doing to us. All of the ways that we can squander away our time here, living as if what we do does not matter, or does not amount to any more than chasing down digital creatures in the real world. If on our own we struggle with being here and with what is most precious, how will we fare with something that magnifies our tendencies to forget?

Finding What You Love

 

I was in a yoga class recently where the theme for the morning was Lakshmi, the goddess of abundance. I knew this about her. What I did not know was that she is also known as The Restless One; the one who keeps creating more and more and more. Without end. This aspect of Her reflects the principle of creation spiraling out of control. What is it that finally allows The Restless One to settle down into enough? Finding what she loves. Finding what matters most to her in all the worlds. The Hindu mythologies so beautifully and poignantly depict the experience of being alive. In this world view, the gods and goddesses are not just energies somewhere up in the sky, but are, instead, reflections, lessons and guidance for those of us here on Earth.

That day my mind kept coming back to something that I know to be true: When we find what matters most in our lives, something inside of us settles down and gets very, very focused. And very, very clear. It is like all else begins to recede into the background when you have your eyes squarely focused on what is most meaningful to you in life. Given the times we are living in, could this not be the one True North for all of us? The technologies are accelerating the pace of our lives and our attempts to keep up. The screens are more and more usurping the time we spend with our loved ones. Personal devices continue to squeeze out our children’s childhood. It is all happening at such a rate and to such an extent that it is hard to know how to handle all of it. Mostly, it seems to be taking us over and having its way with us.

But what if we made a conscious and regular effort to identify what we most love in life. What if we allowed the depth of that to still our frenzied mind and consumptive behavior? What if we stripped everything down to that? And for that. From this perspective, there is no deprivation. There is no hardship when we align with what matters most, even if that means doing without, or letting some things go. Perhaps one of the greatest abuses of the way we use the technologies is how we regularly loose track of what matters most. Instead of being part of a destructive creation cycle, what if we learned to still ourselves through love? Through protecting childhood. Through honoring our bodily needs. Through honoring our relationships. Through creating instead of destroying what is most precious to us in all the worlds.

We Are The Gatekeepers

 

For years, I had been wanting to add to my college curriculum a focus on how technology was adding to the stress load so many students were carrying, how it was distracting them from their studies, impacting their health, and creating a barrier between them and their friends. But I was afraid. Afraid of being seen as out of date. But then life stepped in. In the span of one month, I was made aware of two stories involving two beautiful young girls, inside and out, both fifteen at the time, and both of whom I knew.

The first story involved one of the girls sexting with a boy. He was not her boyfriend, or even a potential boyfriend. This girl had not experienced so much as a kiss, and yet here she was exchanging naked photos of herself and telling worried friends that it was no big deal. The second story involved the second young woman who started a texting relationship with a much older boy that she had met only one time. Early into this exchange, the young man became sexually suggestive and aggressive in his texts to her. At this point, her friend’s sent a text asking him to stop. He responded by texting back that if she told her friends any more about what he was saying, he was going to come find her, and do the most violent act of sexual aggression you could perpetrate on a woman’s body. Despite the advanced nature of this interaction, this girl too had never been so much as kissed. Amidst the horror of this, she dismissed it all by saying that it was not a big deal because it was just a text.

For weeks after hearing this, I was not right. I would spontaneously be overcome by grief and anger. I raged inside. I sobbed whenever I thought of them. I felt frustrated and disempowered.  I believed there there was nothing I could do. Or so I thought. Without knowing what I was doing, I took all of this to my college classes. Because I didn’t know what to do or how to proceed, I started at the beginning. I began by telling them these two stories in great detail. I was very emotional in the telling. It was clear how overwrought I was. And much to my surprise, you could have heard a pin drop that day. The class was riveted, and not because this was news to them. When I asked them if any were shocked, or if this story was new to them, not a single hand was raised. As a matter of fact, I went on to ask this question for a number of semesters in a row to literally hundreds of students, and still, not a single hand went up.

I have come to see now why they were so focused on what I was saying. They were fastened to my horror, my grief, and my anger that the innocence of these two girls and their precious budding sexuality was being squandered without apology, and was even being justified as something that was “no big deal.” And that was when I knew. I knew that for all of their bravado about how great things were, it just wasn’t true. Somewhere down deep they did not feel good either about what was happening. And when they saw my unfiltered reaction, in that moment, they could not deny it. It is so difficult to pierce the illusion around the collective agreement and collusion regarding how all powerful and amazing the technologies are, that it has taken me a long, long time to catch up with the truth. But please know this, all the way into the deepest part of yourself; they are not OK with what is happening, despite what they do or what they say.

In subsequent classes, I went on to tell them about how my family was living and how we were raising our children with little to no technology. I had no idea how they would respond to this, I only knew that an opening had been created, and so I took it. To my great surprise, they broke open too. They spoke of what was not working for them. They spoke of their anxieties in trying to keep up. They spoke of their dissatisfaction with their relationships. They spoke of not being able to sleep at night due to interference from their devices. Later, they came back talking about changes they had made. They taught, and continue to teach me so very much about human nature. They have reminded me about what we all yearn for despite the ways that we get sidetracked. They regularly remind me that the younger generations look to us, despite what they might say or what we might think. They remind me that the human spirit is infinitely creative when it receives the support and the inspiration it requires. They show me regularly just how difficult it is for them to handle this. And they openly and regularly worry about the generations to come.

Something Greater

 

I have been contemplating, practicing and researching conscious use of technology with children for more than 20 years. I have observed and read about all of the many ways that it is changing our children physically, cognitively, socially and emotionally; negative impacts ranging from brain cancer to attention and behavioral problems to impaired memory to social autism, to weight gain, to sleep problems and so much more. As devastating as all of this is, I am noticing something far more destructive; a loss of purpose and meaning. Collectively, we spend more time in front of a screen than the time we put into the exploration and loving expression of who we truly are, why we are here, and where it is that we come from.  What does it mean for our children to grow up in a culture where the biggest, vastest and most ubiquitous daily presence in their life is ever-increasingly a machine? What will it mean for our children who are growing up absorbing the belief that the most powerful presence in their lives emanates from something man-made? While we might not be saying this out loud, no one needs to. Children absorb what it is that we value most. Children take their cues from us about what to orient to in life.

Are we actually going to leave the very unfolding of the human heart and spirit up to a machine? Pause for a moment and reflect deeply on this. Our children need Something Greater to connect to; whether that is God, The Great Mother, The One, All That Is, Allah, Jehovah, Jesus, Shiva, a social cause, Nature, or your family. However you experience it, and by whatever name you refer to it, our children need to be in relationship to something more than themselves and their self-indulgent forays into the cyber world. What is it doing to their spirit to have the very essence of their existence reduced down to the number of “likes” they get on Facebook? Or how many friends or followers that have accumulated. Or how many texts they send or receive each day. How does self-absorption and narcissism further humankind and inspire us to reach for our very best? It does not.

Our children require meaning and purpose for their souls to flourish as surely as their bodies require air to live. The steady and depleting diet of screen images along with the amount of time spent there reduces their spiritual life down to a tiny or non-existent corner of their lives. But certainly not the guiding force. Not the orienting direction in their life. What compounds the damage is the importance we, as their primary role models, have put on life in front of a screen; modeling for them that this is the shiniest and most coveted brass ring to reach for, despite what else we might preach about what is most important.

Meaning, purpose and a connection to Something Greater is what holds us through all of life’s ups and downs. It is what uplifts us and carries us further than we could ever go on our own. This is what will support our children when life challenges, fails and disappoints them. Experiences of Presence are often subtle, paling in comparison to the yelling and demands of the devices. Spirit is never pushy, quick, or loud in the ways of the machines. And because the satisfactions of the devices are so immediate and compelling while asking simultaneously so little, how will this prepare our children for a life lived in Connection?

Ultimately, will it turn out to be progressive of us, or in the best interest of humankind, for the dominating cultural attitude to be that man and his accomplishments are the greatest show on earth? The technologies are amplifying this ignorant and ultimately erroneous belief in far-reaching and destructive ways. What will it do to our children for them to grow up believing that they are the most powerful force in the Universe? How will arrogance, self-absorption and our own self-importance further the hopes, dreams and the very best of our species? How will disconnection from Source play out in our relationship to caring for and about others and the planet? If our children, through years of experience with being in control of all that they touch, come to believe that they are the omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient ones, how will they live? And then, how will be able to live together?

All of our greatest and most shining exemplars are those human beings who submitted to something beyond themselves. At its best, the human experience includes honoring, respecting and submitting to something more powerful than yourself. To give them the impression that we as people are in control of everything, that it is all just a click or a swipe away, is to rob them of their true place in the order of things. Watch what it is that lights you up in the presence of your children. Watch what you talk about most. Watch where you spend the majority of your time, energy and money. Do you marvel as much in the Infinite as you do the man-made?

Left To Their Own Devices

 

We need heroes and heroines right now. More than ever. Why? Because this culture does not value or protect its young. This culture does not properly grasp the protected status children require to grow naturally, healthfully and well. It is evident in how many of them go hungry. It is noticeable in how many of our young people suffer from disorders that have toxic environmental links perpetrated by corporations seeking to make a profit. It is evident in the way our children’s childhoods have become overly commercialized and consumer-oriented. It is apparent and appalling in the way we sanction food that is grown with toxins, harmful modifications and refined to the point of being dangerous. It is manifest in how many of our children are on unprecedented amounts of medications. It displays itself in how many of our kids are depressed, stressed and anxious. It shows in how little we pay and respect teachers, and how little real progress ever happens in education. It reveals itself around the multi-billion dollar amounts always available for the defense budget, while schools continue to be level-funded year after year despite increases to the cost of living, and to the growing demands that schools must meet in terms of student needs. And it is palpable in the way we allow our children to see things and spend their days in ways that rob them of their innocence, vitality and inner freedom.

I have yet to meet a parent who in some way is not worried about how the technologies are using our children. Why is it then that we are not organizing around this one? Why are we not refusing to allow this to continue? Why are we not carving out the time and the actions necessary to address our concerns? We are so schizophrenic around the technologies in the truest sense of that word, i.e. to be of a split mind. Through one side of our mouths we lament what is happening, and through the other side we live as if our devices are valued family members who get the preferred seat at the table. Or worse yet, we allow that family member that we do not want around our kids, to live with us nonetheless.

Likely, parents everywhere, and at all times, have struggled with some version of their children getting into something, or being exposed to, what we would most want them to avoid.  Recently though, the reality of our children getting involved with the wrong thing has exponentially exploded with the advent of the screen technologies. This is alarmingly exemplified by the story I just heard of local teenage girls posting nude pictures of themselves on Instagram, all in the name of body image empowerment. Funny thing is though, as the story goes, only the good-looking girls with the “good bodies” are doing this. And oh, by the way, the political statement is entitled The 100 Day ‘Ho Down. In case you didn’t catch it, it is ‘Ho as in  WHORE. So, young women are exploiting their bodies, referring to themselves as whores, all the while believing that they are taking back the night with this one. Will this be enough for us as the grown-ups to weigh in on? We can refuse to address this in any kind of a meaningful way, but the truth is, it will go on; with or without us.