Guest article courtesy of Caroline Myss.
Every person wants to find a way to live in tranquility. Every person is overwhelmed by chaos. We are not creatures who strive for chaotic, confused lives, at least not when we have our heads on straight. Rather, our inner nature thrives when we find the courage to become congruent, when our heart is one with our mind and through that union, we find the key to our soul.
The great mystics of all traditions offer us enlightened teachings that remind us that many pathways to the soul exist – through the Christian tradition, through the Buddhist, the Hindu, the Jewish, the Sufi – all of them wise paths to soul illumination.
Living in a World of Distractions
Revered spiritual teachers tell us that we are consumed and controlled by distractions. Have you ever really noticed how loud your environment is? I know so many people who cannot tolerate silence. They have to have some sort of background noise on at all times, whether it’s the radio or television. This irritating blast of sound bites and commercials and endless horrible television nonsense broadcasts all during their dinners instead of conversation or while attempting to have a conversation. The kids race through dinner so that they can return to their on-line life.
I observe people who are so insecure about being alone that they cannot even do gardening without their cell phone hanging from their side. And if there was ever a place to enjoy the sound of nature itself, it’s your garden. Or what about taking a walk just to reflect upon your own thoughts? Nothing is as irritating to me, however, as dining with someone who places a cell phone on the table. Trying to have a conversation with someone whose eyes are constantly shifting from you to a cell phone has raised the bar on the definition of what it means to be socially rude. I have often excused myself giving the impression that I am headed to the Ladies Room when in fact I am headed right out the restaurant door. I then send a text.
And what is this value we put on “multi-tasking”? I don’t admire that. I always picture someone who claims to be able to multi-task as having a spinning head on his or her shoulders. Since when is not being fully conscious and attentive to what you are doing something to be admired? Why is driving yourself faster and faster and faster and faster the standard of admiration? (Will someone please tell me how we got to this insanity??? ) Is it any wonder then, how, in the midst of a culture that admires speed and doing more and more and more and living in an electronic wonderland, that there is little if any time for self-reflection on a daily basis? Quiet time is something that many people get only when they are on the verge of a breakdown or they have to flee their residence and take off for some cabin in the woods somewhere because they think it’s city life creating the stress – (I don’t think so, folks).
Distractions are a product of attachment to a sensory-driven life without values strong enough to control the choices your senses compel you to make. Your five senses are in charge of your reality. You know you’re alive and in charge of your life because you can see, hear, touch, move, control, pick up a phone, hold on to your lap top as if it were your life preserver, speak to another person, get reports on this and that, sell this, buy that, be with this person or that person – any one, just as long as you are not alone. Consider all the data coming at you nonstop and the noise.
And now – more importantly – consider the content of that data. What is flowing in and out of your mind and heart just on a daily basis? Think of all the choices that you are confronted with each hour of your life, never mind during an entire day. If you were to believe all the nonsense of every television commercial and so-called medical report on what you should or should not consume for your health – every morsel of food that you put into your mouth is now a life-or-death decision, not to mention where you live, walk, and what you wear. I look all these other countries in the world that do not have advertising companies promoting vitamins and health products and cannot help but notice they have millions living to a ripe old age…and I wonder, “How’d ya do that without all your vitamins and three organic veggies per day and just the right amount of omega fish oil and avoiding certain toxic movies.” Then I realized, they just don’t listen to American pharmaceutical commercials – that’s how they survived – they don’t suffer from American neurosis. For what reason do nations with a population of over a billion people need viagra? Maybe it’s us…duh.
Distractions. Our culture is dripping with the most outrageous distractions that have ever been manufactured – from noise to electronics to advertising propaganda. But then, life is a journey of distractions. And the first one to point that out was the Buddha. He called the world of form and everything in it “illusion”. Few jewels are as liberating to your inner life and soul as understanding the core teachings of the Buddha, beginning with that one. Distractions are illusions – and what is not a distraction?
It took me a long time to understand the Buddhist teaching on illusion (not that I fully understand the anything the Buddha taught). I remember thinking that the rock that just fell on my foot is not an illusion because illusions cannot possibly hurt that much. But I was missing the key ingredient to this mystical truth. I did not yet understand that power was the fundamental ingredient of the human experience. – a topic for another discussion. Briefly, however, Buddha was referring to the danger of developing an illusion with an object, person, place, thought form – anything – in life that causes you to negotiate your inner power and form an attachment to that external object in the belief that you require that attachment for your survival or happiness or security. Any such attachment for Buddha qualifies as an illusion. That illusion, in turn, becomes a distraction of consciousness. We create narratives in our mind about its significance in our life and how our life would crumble without it.
Buddha included relationships as illusions. All of us have close and loving relationships and none of us would refer to those we love as “illusions”. And yet, though we all have suffered terribly at the loss of people we have loved, the truth is life has gone on. We did not evaporate in our pain, though we perhaps thought we would for a while. It was an illusion that we could not go on without that person – because we did.
And people can and will go on without us. Many have already. We were illusions in their lives. Imagine that.
Distractions and illusions are powerful things. But they are clutter, talking mind clutter. Go for a walk and listen to your clutter. Anger, stress, things your worry about – it’s all clutter. You may tell me that a mortgage payment is not an illusion. Fair enough. But the stress around it is. With or without stress, you have to find a way to make that payment. Does stress help you? That is the illusion.
Observe your distractions and illusions and see how many you can detach from just by realizing you are captive to them. Turn off the television. Read a good book instead of sitting at the computer. Change your life habits. Break out of your routines. Stop multi-tasking – give yourself a break.
Slow down and become conscious of your life and the world you live in.