Meet Derek, a YA living in Petaluma, CA. Technology is such a huge part of YA life and Derek shares with us here his strategies for approaching technology in a healthy way.
Tumblr. imgur. Facebook. Twitter. E-mail. iPhone. Skype. Nexus. Galaxy. RAZR. iPad. Text messages. The printing press. You can argue for or against these technologies. Sometimes they are useful. Sometimes it is All.Just.A.Bunch.Of.Noise. Distraction ... Agitation … An Energy sinkhole. For me, the majority of consumer technology is neither good nor bad. What matters most is the state of my mind, my consciousness, while using technology.
One of the many things I appreciate about Easwaran is that he has given me a goal in life, and the means with which to attain that goal. The eight-point program is the means by which I hope to become a living embodiment of my highest ideals (which are personified in the passages we use for meditation), and my personal relationships (either in person or through the double-sided mirror of technology) are a playing field loaded with opportunities. The eight-point program provides tools to better understand and direct my mind, my emotions and my desires. It teaches me to slowly, gradually, wear down compulsions and attachments, and how to siphon prana (energy) from these selfish desires and redirect them to something good (or at least "better than").
One-pointed attention is key. Between email, instant messaging and text message there is always something going on at work. Some of it needs my attention immediately, some of the messages can be responded to later on, but the majority are just FYI and require no response or action on my part. To help prioritize this constant hum, my co-workers and I use an informal system. When we need to concentrate for long periods of time we announce it to our core group, and then we go mostly off-line. For example, we make ourselves unavailable using "do not disturb" in Skype, or we go invisible, *and* we block the time on our calendars so that no one can sneak in some last minute meetings. We are always available via phone call or text in the event of an emergency, and we are very good about not using these "emergency" technologies when there is not a pressing need.
(I would like to point out that we are also very good at recognizing when we need "play time"; time for all of us to be silly together so we can support each other during times of high stress. Since we are scattered all over the world, quite literally, technology is the vehicle we use for this. There is nothing like a video chat or a phone call, for sharing a funny anecdote from our personal lives.)
Thing is, not everything that happens during the work day is "work". With Facebook and Twitter and text messages, there is a lot of "personal" stuff going on as well. There are many times when I've compulsively caught myself going out to see what's happening with friends on Facebook, or to catch up on the latest Science Fiction "news" through my favourite news reader. Clearly, one-pointed attention helps to keep these self-inflicted distractions under control, but sometimes the clamour is so loud I find I just go off and do it. These compulsive transition times are a great opportunity to attempt to insert the mantram, to give myself some space, to slow down, and eventually to reflect on what is driving the compulsion. In many cases I've found that there is a deep, driving desire to connect with people; to entertain them; to make them smile; to be entertained and distracted myself even. Sometimes it is appropriate for me to respond using social media or text; sometimes not. What is important to me is that I'm gradually learning how to pull myself away from compulsion and instead introduce an element of choice. For example, "Do I need to respond to this? Do I want to respond to this? Will this strengthen our relationship? Does it require an immediate response? Is the other person possibly being compulsive or selfish? Is there a better way to connect with this person? Maybe we can video chat with each other later today or this week?" Those are the kinds of questions I ask myself, and while this may seem like an intellectual exercise, it isn't. There is an element of putting others first that I do my best to navigate, and that can only be done by understanding what is in my heart.
An exercise that has helped me to slow down, and to put others first when responding to those short and fun messages from friends, is to say the mantram for the other person just before I press "send". I really enjoy doing this as it enables me to "spiritualize" a silly, mundane, interaction. I strive to hold the other person in my heart as I quickly repeat, "Rama Rama Rama", before sending something as silly as, "OMG! ROFL! :P"
As my spiritual experiments help me mature, I'm starting to better understand the agitation that was arising in my mind. In many cases I noticed there was always a little "rush of self absorption" whenever I got an email, poke, text, wall post, you name it! It didn't matter if it was related to work or my personal life, there would sometimes be a little voice saying, "Hah! I told you we were important!" or "Hah! She or he or they like you!" Minor agitation (masking itself as happiness) would arise, and major agitation would rear its ugly head when no messages were received. This used to trigger samskaras (conditioning) of feeling unloved, unworthy, of not being good enough. By spiritualizing my interactions with the mantram, by slowing down more, by being one-pointed more, I'm not only learning where my self-worth lay (in the Self! Duh!), I'm slowly learning the difference between agitation and joy as well. In this case I will define joy as unshakeable security, unshakeable cheerfulness that is not reliant on external events, over which I have no control.
Sometimes, my mind and intellect just need a break. They need to not focus as hard; maybe they feel like they need a bit of a reward for behaving so well? :-) During these times, I've found that the choice of entertainment, the choice of "break", makes a big difference to the level of agitation in my mind. What I'm wanting to do is relax, so why am I reading about the Star Wars VII or the Doctor WHO 50th Anniversary Special? Why am I just browsing Facebook or a news site? It takes my mind off the pressing items of the day, yes, but I've already done this two or three times today, so is there really anything new to know? This is usually a very compulsive form of entertainment for me, and compulsive entertainment is not something I've found to be relaxing. Instead, after months of effort and reflection, I've started something new. When I'm overwhelmed and agitated during the day, I make the space for me to go outside and work in my garden. Just 10 minutes of mantram time in nature rejuvenates my entire being, and when I get back to the office I'm much more focused, productive, calm and kind. If I'm not working from home, I make sure to go out for a short mantram walk or a mantram sit in a nearby park. The key for me is to not allow myself to make excuses.
But, but, Derek, I really can't just get up and go in the middle of the day. Yah, sometimes this happens to me as well. I might have an all day off-site scheduled (when I'm locked in a small room with my peers for 12 hours!), or a day filled with back-to-back meetings, or I might be in the middle of directing the solution of a critical issue at work. If I know a day is going to be tough beforehand, I plan for it. For example, I might choose to have a five or ten minute walk prior to the first meeting. If the day gets totally out of control due to unforeseen circumstances, I treat it as a stretching exercise: I squeeze in any mantram whenever I can, always trying to slow myself down, to keep myself alert and on-target, kind, calm and compassionate. This is tough. When I get home or back to my hotel, I opt for a centering exercise, something that will gently pull me back into balance. Time in nature, mantram writing and mantram art, or a little bit of spiritual reading always helps.
In closing, I'd like to share one of my "go to passages" as it never fails to bring perspective in any situation. From the book God Makes the Rivers to Flow, here is Easwaran's free rendering from the Yoga Vasishtha, "The Lamp of Wisdom."
The Lamp of Wisdom
To all who long and strive to realize the Self,
Illumination comes to them in this very life.
This divine awareness never leaves them,
And they work unceasingly for the good of all.
When the lamp of wisdom is lit within,
Their face shines, whether life brings weal or woe.
Even in deep sleep they are aware of the Self,
For their mind is freed from all conditioning.
Inwardly they are pure like the cloudless sky,
But they act as if they too were like us all.
Free from self–will, with detached intellect,
They are aware of the Self even with their hands at work.
Neither afraid of the world, nor making the world afraid,
They are free from greed, anger, and fear.
When the waves of self–will subside
Into the sea of peace that is the Self,
The mind becomes still, the heart pure,
And illumination comes to us in this very life.
When this supreme state is attained,
They neither rise nor fall, change nor die.
Words cannot describe the supreme state
For it is fuller than fullness can be.