Sunday, May 22, 2005

Just unplug it

Due to technical difficulties with Audioblogger, today's post will be of the old-fashioned written variety. And that's actually fitting for the topic I want to talk about today: unplugging.

First, let me assure you that I'm just as "wired" as the next person. I have wireless broadband Internet in my apartment and often travel with my laptop. I own a cellphone as well as a VoIP cordless landline phone. I have a stereo in my home office as well as a radio/CD player in both my kitchen and bedroom, and although my cable-free TV doesn't (inexplicably) get any channels other than E!, I keep somewhat up-to-date on movies and my favorite TV shows thanks to Netflix.

So, I'm not suggesting that you should get rid of your high tech devices, since then you'd not be able to read and listen to my blogposts! Instead, I'm suggesting that sometimes it can be incredibly fruitful to unplug.

One day last summer I drove to Boston where I spent a sunny afternoon strolling and enjoying the sights. As I walked across the Public Garden, I noted with bemusement that I was the only person walking alone. There were plenty of people who didn't have walking companions...but every lone walker I saw (with the exception of a few homeless folks who were talking to themselves) was either chatting on a cellphone or listening to a Walkman or Ipod.

In other words, everyone I saw walking in the Public Garden that day was "plugged in," focusing on the conversation of their companions, talking to a friend via cellphone, or drowning out the day with music. Although I'm as fond of music and conversation as anyone, it seemed sad to consider that no one was taking the time (significantly, everyone I observed was walking rapidly) simply to enjoy an unfiltered day in the park. Because of the virtual omnipresence of cell phones and personal musical devices, nobody was enjoying the simple silence of a summer's walk.

When I lived at the Cambridge Zen Center, there was one house rule that I appreciated above all others. Although the wake-up bell rang at 5 am and morning practice began soon thereafter, house rules stated that residents and guests should keep silence until 7 am. If you imagine the noise and hubbub that naturally occurs in a house with some 30 residents, you can appreciate how precious that morning silence was. Although I'm a talkative person, I don't necessarily feel at my chatty best upon first awakening. By making a shared agreement to keep silence until 7 am, residents worked together to create a space for practice (or for sleeping residents who didn't hear the wake-up bell!)

These days, I try to do three things upon awakening: I do 108 bows, I sit for fifteen minutes, and I write four pages in my journal. Although I do other things in between these three elements of my morning practice (feeding the dog, for example, between bows and sitting), I've discovered one simple trick that all but guarantees I'll do my full practice without getting distracted: I keep my laptop OFF the entire time.

If my laptop were on, it would be easy to check email first thing upon awakening...and once I sit down to check email, it's easy to surf a couple sites and in the process get irrevocably sucked into cyberspace. Over time, I've noticed that I'm lazy: if it's easy for me to check email, I'll do it, but if I have to fire up my laptop, I'm more likely to postpone my email in favor of doing the "unplugged" things that I really want to be doing. For the sake of my morning practice, I make a conscious choice to streamline my morning environment, turning off my laptop, stereo, and other potential distractions the night before.

So, what are your distractions? Nobody's suggesting you get rid of your TV, cellphone, or computer...but at what times in your day would you benefit from using the "off" switch? If you want to start spending your morning meditating, what devices create a sonic backdrop that makes it impossible to concentrate? If you want to write every evening after you've cleaned up from dinner, what electronic diversions distract you from your goal? Making a conscious choice to turn off your clock radio in the morning or refrain from watching one half-hour sit-com at night frees a small space where you can practice unfettered. It's not a matter of giving up all electronic enjoyments; it's a matter of occasionally unplugging them.


At 4:20 PM, Blogger Jen said...

Amen. The tv drives me insane, and the kids...oh my gawd...playstations, x boxes, videos...Just yesterday I had to kick my kids out of the house. It was a beautiful day and they wanted to spend it sitting on the couch being LAZY.
I cherish my quiet time. My house is usually noisy, so my favorite time is early in the morning or late at night when the house is peaceful. And I can think. Clearly.
I like music and occasionally tv, but it's also good to have a routine of clearing out the cobwebs. And, with me, that can only be done in silence.

At 1:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I laughed when I realised I must be one of the homeless as I often talk to myself out loud when I am walking I also talk to the trees, shrubs and river out loud so goodness only knows what I am wired into:0)

My time for silence and listening to other than a radio are the first hours of the morning. I aim for silence till 8am.

I have no TV as I found it too disturbing for me personally, not the actual images really more the energy of the medium I think. I would deeply miss access to radio and feel this medium has encoraged and enabled me to listen with more concentration.


At 5:00 PM, Anonymous corrina said...

A few summers ago I tried taking my daily walks while listening to books on tape -- I'm not sure why I broke my routine of walking sans entertainment, maybe I needed some incentive because my routes were getting boring. Anyway, I learned that I felt completely separated from the many things I enjoy about walking, such as noticing the changes in gardens and yards, the birds, the dogs, the other walkers, joggers, cyclists, and horseback riders. I returned to walking with my senses engaged and have not been bored with my walks since. And the tv? Have a 13" with no cable. I do watch an average of 8 DVD's from Netflix a month. We also have a broadband internet connection but the computer gets turned off around 5:00 p.m. every day. I like to check email first thing after I've fed the cats but then I like to do other things like weed the flower beds, fiddle with my horse, write in my journal. Yay for the Unpluggeds!

At 4:45 PM, Blogger Lorianne said...

How wonderful to know that there are other Unplugged types out there! Maybe we can start a quiet movement to Unplug.


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