Most people don’t even notice it. There is the familiar buzz in the pocket or the soft, quirky tone that emanates from an indeterminate space in the room. Before their conscious mind recognizes what it is, the amygdala responds, igniting whatever emotions associated with incoming data: anxiety, hope, fatigue. Unconsciously, the Pavlovian response carries their hands to the screen, the buttons.
Now must be the time to receive the all-important message, to respond. Now must be the time to read and utter witticisms, to discover significant coupon savings, to flip half-interested through Facebook photos of their colleague’s weekend hiking trip. They don’t care if they’re pissing away a $100,000 education or sitting at their father’s deathbed, this is important.
But you, you’re practicing. You’ve been around the block. You’ve sat enough zazen, done enough pranayama, observed yourself enough to know that you don’t want to become that guy with the Bluetooth headset in his ear at the opera. You are exercising agency; you are training your attention to be both one-pointed and broad like the ocean. You will not be swayed; you are not “on demand” like all those automatons crashing into each other on the freeways, ignoring each other on the couch, their bland faces wanly lit by ever-present screens.
You know that in the end, your attention is all you’ve got.
And you need it for your affirmations, your study, your love, your delicate balance of work and life, spirituality, family and fun, not to mention your screenplay that you’ve got to squeeze in between it all—it is truly the most important thing.
Yet, there it is. The buzz, the tone, the recognition, the salivating emotions – somebody in that big broad world has contacted you, you, and they are aching, gnashing to receive your response. In fact, if they don’t hear from you by tomorrow they will be worried, mad or simply think that you are no longer relevant, a non-starter, a lazy f*cking bum.
Straining, you pry your attention away from the juicy tidbit that is waiting just beneath the warm, bright icons right there on the table, inside that gorgeous piece of design, that sleek, sexy, modern mechanism of the Global Unity, your connection to the pulsing, breathing, churning life that you are a vital, essential part of. With great effort, you draw your eyes back up to those of your friend across the café table, leaving your soul painfully behind.
What were you saying?
You know what? I’m sorry, hold on just a minute. This might be my boss. We’ve got this project this weekend…
Oh! Oh, man, have you seen this? This kitten is fucking hilarious. Look! I know, it’s gotten like four million hits. We’ve got to get our dog Luna on YouTube, everybody loves her and it would be great to get some passive income going; I think they put ads up once you’ve got 100,000 hits or something. We keep wishing we had a good video camera because we have all these hilarious skits and we’re like, why don’t we put this on YouTube? Of course, nobody thinks we’re as funny as we do, but that in and of itself, is funny! Haha! Anyway, what were you saying?
It’s gone. Gone. The bank is eroding, the little bits of soil now become big clods calving into the rushing stream. What’s left of your sanity, your choice, your free will, your ability to do something, to be something, to be nothing, is sucked into the vast and terrible whirlpool of global commerce, where you are but a series of ones and zeros entering one bank account and exiting another. Oh, there are the twitter revolutions and the facebook millionaires, but are you involved in anything so important?
Nobody even had a cell phone when you were in college and you held out for so long; now you can’t imagine life without it. It’s too late for you. You are weak. No wonder you don’t read literature or play the guitar anymore. You’re starting to see the sense in owning an iPad. And what about those poor kids, the kids in third grade today with the cell phone and the iPad and the in-car HD video, what will happen to them? What will happen to the world? Not to mention, your screenplay?
James MacAdam is a Renaissance Dude. He spends much of his time working with NGO Watershed Management Group to green cities across the Southwest U.S. He has studied widely and deeply across various spiritual traditions including yoga and Zen, is a (currently inactive) certified Anusara Yoga instructor, and has found major health challenges to be one of his most powerful teachers. He is a tree-hugging nature buff. James writes a monthly column with an integral perspective on sustainability and the green movement, entitled “Thinking Beyond Green” for The New Southwest. Links to his most recent columns are here. James lives with his wife Rachel and their miniature poodle Teddy in Tucson, Arizona. You can find him on twitter, facebook, and on his blog.