Friday, August 29, 2014

The Discipline of Stopping

-in my meditation garden-

When our "now-adult" boys were small children we went on a family summer vacation to Disney's Epcot Center in Orlando Florida. There we were treated to a glimpse into all the exciting things the future would bring to us - all the wonderful new "time-saving" inventions for the days ahead.

We learned of something called a "microwave oven" that would cook our food in 2 to 5 minutes- how could that be possible? We saw models of a computer small enough to actually place on a desk in your own homes and we were amazed to discover that from this device you could plug into the whole world - incredible. 

The computer would serve as a home library, a research center and a bookstore. In fact you could do all your shopping by just sitting at your desk, saving all the time it takes going out to a store. The computer would also be your pharmacy where you could order all your prescriptions, and by simply pressing a few keys you could order up your evening meal to be delivered from a local restaurant. We were also stunned to learn that, in the future, you could even send and receive mail from your home computer, and on top of all that this desktop device would someday be shrunk down to the size of a hand-held phone that you could carry around with you wherever you went - wow, imagine all the time this would save! 

I was so amazed at the wonders the future might hold for us. I even remember thinking, "What will people do with all the leisure time in the days ahead?" - probably a lot more trips to Disneyland. 

Our oldest son, now all grown-up and married is visiting us for a few days. Yesterday I observed him as he spent a good part of the day working remotely from his "laptop."  It was such a whirlwind of activity - three online conference calls, endless text messages, his cell phone buzzing ceaselessly. As I watched this dizzying flurry of activity, I remembered that day when he was a little boy as we glimpsed into our future at the Epcot Center. I thought our brave new world of technological sophistication was supposed to win us all this extra leisure time - guess not.

Lots of people today lead life in the fast-lane. Our technologies have turned everyday living into an endless rush of non-stop activity. We can bring our work home and answer messages while lying on a beach, supposedly on vacation. Even leisurely meals become occasions for pecking at cell phones, browsing the web, reading mail, looking at texts, returning calls, and of course "checking in" with Facebook. 

As I see it this constant frenzy and oppressive rattle of activity is depleting - the source of so much underlying stress. It is, in fact, a spiritual problem, an impediment to finding deeper peace. 

Buddhist teacher and monk, Thich Nhat Hanh offers this advice:

If you are like most of us, since you were born, you've been running, tense, carried away, the mind always pre-occupied by so many things.

So first of all, you need to train yourself to stop -- stop running after all these things. Even if you don't have irritation, anger, fear or despair you are still running with this or that project, or this or that line of thinking, and you're not at peace. So even (or especially) at those times when you have no problems at all, train yourself to stop, to be 'here,' to come back to the wonders of the present moment.

Americans celebrate the unofficial end of summer on this Labor Day holiday weekend - a great time to engage in the "discipline of stopping." Who knows, maybe if we unplugged for a day, disabled the email, shut off the cell phones, logged out of the computers, we may actually save ourselves some time. 

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