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.