Thursday, July 9, 2009

Enough Already

"We live in wondrous times, astoundingly fast times, Blackberry and instant-message times, humankind accomplishing a swelling tidal wave of feats that would have scared Leonardo DaVinci witless.

Almost every day I encounter people, who, like me, do not feel empowered by these abundant times. Some are mildly unsettled; others near to drowning.

Someone says, "The more they talk about being 'connected,' the more isolated I feel."

Author Maggie Jackson claims information overload is crippling our ability to think deeply; what matters is now veiled."--From Islands Apart: A Year on the Edge of Civilization

I've been away from the computer for two weeks. I returned to work to find close to 500 emails, and on my Gmail account, there were hundreds more, though many were email newsletters and store sale announcements, most of which I deleted without reading. I gravitated toward the few personal emails I had received. Those I kept.

I missed writing on this blog, but I didn't miss all the noise of commerce, celebrity gossip, news of wars and murders and abuse, the latest political harangues. I was blissfully disconnected. I didn't even have a cell phone. I heard of Michael Jackson's death on CNN World News, but didn't hear any of the ensuing details. Oh, and I heard from a frenchman that one of our senators ran away to South America to be with his mistress, but I didn't hightail it to the nearest internet cafe to read the latest developments.

I was in Paris for a week in a small apartment near Pigalle, home of the disappointingly-dinky Moulin Rouge and steps away from every food shop one would ever need to live a happy life and die smiling. I wanted to live in the moment, soak it all in, but even living my new, disconnected life, I found my brain racing with too many thoughts, my mind consumed with hungers. I had never been to Paris, and there was so much to take in, so much to sample, look at, experience, purchase. At times I felt like I had to go back to the apartment and close my eyes--that was how much of a sensory overload it was for me. If I was sitting at one cafe enjoying a cafe au lait and a pain du chocolat, I was thinking about what I would be doing next. When I went to one fancy department store and bought a charming little blouse for 55 Euros, I was already thinking about what other pretty clothes awaited me in the next store. If I was eating a Religieuse pastry, I was wondering what the Macarons tasted like. In the Jardin des Tuileries I was happily lounging under the shade, reading a book, my head resting comfortably and surrounded by beauty everywhere I looked. But I found it hard to just stay, to just be. Even in the best possible circumstances, I'm thinking about what's next.

So I was away from the information overload that is the internet, free to experience the real world rather than the virtual one--but I was still struggling with living in the moment because of my habit of wondering what I'd find behind the next corner. I was like a baby who doesn't want to go to sleep because he's afraid he'll miss something. Happiness is contentment, and I wouldn't be content until I had seen and experienced everything the city had to offer--which of course is impossible. Because contentment is about being happy with what you have in front of you, and I just wanted more, more. If I was happy now, would I be even happier at the next cafe, the next sight, the next charming boutique?

When I'm online, I want to be clued into every good site, blog, comment, essay, news posting, etc. that I can get my hands on. But disconnecting from the computer was not enough to control my greed--I also had to disconnect from my "monkey mind" of always wanting more, better, best so I could fully experience the great things that were happening to me in the present. It was incredibly hard to do, but by week two in Sweden I was starting to get it. I was thinking more clearly without all the distracting buzz in the background (no, the only buzz was coming from the biting flies that come out in summer there.) I was recognizing how fleeting my vacation (and time itself) was and so I tried to savor it a bit more. I came back from the trip more relaxed, refreshed, and ready to practice being present here at home.


Nathan said...

yeah, that grasping, distracted mind is really tricky, especially in places where you have so many options and everything is new, or at least unfamiliar. Glad you had a good vacation, and learned a little in the process.

Pattern and Perspective said...

I would do the same, if I was able to travel somewhere. (someday, I'll travel again by golly!). Anyway, we are distracted all day, every day, these days...aren't we, Jennifer? I'm at work and distracted (then again, my job is horrendenously dull)....I come home and I have to get all the little chores done and still cannot get relaxed. My brain is a buzzing...I have to check google, msn mail, blog, flickr, twitter (I'm bad bad bad about tweeting), and facebook. Am I forgetting something? It was so great that you could go on vacation and really release yourself from the everdays holds that technology & etc...have over us. Congrats and well deserved vaca I'm sure.