July 15, 2010

The Frame of Space.

A Better Way to Receive Messages.

My kids don’t like my BlackBerry. I think they suspect that when the BlackBerry is in my hand it becomes the focus, and they become the frame.

The frame:  what’s interesting about the frame is that in many cases it provides structure, beauty, context; a home for the image or idea held within. Sounds good right? It’s not necessarily, not when family and friends become the frame. This conceptual rendering of the frame is philosophical and lofty and the people in our lives should be the real thing, the grounding image that makes the whole experience worth our attention.

I’m not sure that I like my Blackberry, the little devil, which I own because of my job – it wasn’t a purchase that excited me so I had my reservations, which I still have. While you might not have a smart phone you probably own some electronic device so you understand the distraction of a call, the flashing message light, or the jangling vibration that tells you that someone wants to tell you something. The changing of television channels creates the same sensation. The emphasis here is on the content: there is information that someone wants to share, they want to get it off of their desk and onto yours.

Because of the transactional, transitional nature of hi-tech communication, many of us are left with a sense of muddled urgency. Have you ever put down the phone or device and picked it up again immediately, edgy for more but certainly not longing for more? We just want to check to be absolutely sure that nothing is waiting for us so that we can enjoy the next set of moments until something actually is waiting when we check again. The day becomes stages of checking and rechecking filled with stages of anticipation of the next check.

Do we get a moment when none of this matters?
I’d like to say that we do, because we’ve been blessed with our day which is chock-full of now moments. If I have to be honest, however, the now moments simply aren’t recognized by most of us. They become the waiting moments, the worry moments and the response moments.

Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.

~ Wendell Berry

Try this exercise. Take your device (Blackberry, phone, computer, remote control – whatever it is that distracts you from the present moment with your family) and lay it on a simple clean surface. I put mine on my butcher-block counter. Allow yourself to see the negative space around the device. Sense the fullness of the surface: the grain of the wood or weave of the fabric. Allow that fullness to extend further to include the area beyond the surface, the items and areas that comprise the room around you. Engage with the open space; breathe in the stillness. Hold onto that for a few breaths until you welcome the calm, connect with the openness.

Something wonderful took place when I did this; my three kids came into the room, simply by happenstance. Because I’d allowed myself to fully minimize the device, it dropped from my attention and the children were welcomed into the space, not hemmed into the edges. The still, open space became the frame and the kids became the focus. When the frame is space and stillness, we let ourselves sense the edges of the experience, rather than trap the experience into a box, or filter it through little letters or moving images.

Many of you may feel that you are too busy to afford yourself the luxury of space, but I’ll argue that point. I’ll take it a step further: your multi-focus, simultaneous devotions aren’t doing your work any favors either.  You’ve heard of the dangers of texting-while-driving or drunk-dialing or falling-asleep-with-the-TV-on. These things are bad for you because urging your frayed actions to bump against a semi-conscious awareness creates distraction. Not healthy for you and not great for your relationships.

It might be hard to resist glancing at your Blackberry while your kids are in the bath, or flipping on the television while you have dinner with your spouse. At first you may feel a craving, not unlike that feeling you get when a chocolate cake or a great cabernet is in the house. Learn to recognize the craving, and approach it from a sense of space. That’s all you have to do to get started, allow the space around you to become the frame and when you do, you’ll notice the view is quite better than a tangle of words on tiny screen. You’ll see your life which is happening whether you check in or not.

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Jill Barth  |  Contribution: 4,500