You are not a machine. You are a human being. Don’t be surprised: it’s true. A human being is here to cultivate joy. A machine is here to work. When a car runs low on gas you put in more gas, press on the pedal and go. If the car won’t go you fix it. If the car is broken and not worth fixing you replace it. A car is an object that may have its mysteries, but it does not breathe in and breathe out; it does not light up with joy when it hears a funny story and it does not lose sleep at the prospect of a marginally engaged TV personality occupying the White House.
A human being is designed for natural repose, to take time out, exhale, drop the shoulders and experience the miracle of consciousness. We are not meant to just keep putting in gas and pressing on the pedal. We are not meant to put in face time, have downtime, and interface. We are meant to be present, rest, and visit.
This is not just terminology. Almost everyone I know over the age of 10 is often absent from his or her own life, living in a distracted fog of texting, Facebooking, and Instagramming. The habits inherent in these distractions now run so deep that in conversation it’s typical for the eyes of the person I’m talking with to dart away every five seconds or so whether or not they hear a dinging sound.
And we’re not just talking conversation style. More and more in my practice and in my personal life I see people who are flat out bone-tired, sad, and discouraged. These are smart, successful, engaged, caring people who work hard and who contribute to our collective well being in myriad ways, but who are not finding success in renewing themselves so they can absorb peace and contentment from this life.
What is happening? How is it that we have come to a place where a business person takes work with her and checks company email on vacation and, once home, pushes the stroller while jogging and texting? How have we come to a time when a vibrant young man leaning against a wall downtown doesn’t notice the girl of his dreams sashaying by because his head is down, focusing on the small screen in his hand? Does this young man feel lonely? Does he long for a woman to be close to? Or does the momentary satisfaction of an image on a screen delay the discomfort just long enough for that girl to round the corner?
We took a wrong turn somewhere. Somewhere after home answering machines we started to lose touch with the experience of living in our own skin in this moment. We supplanted the discomfort of walking through Home Depot, awkwardly trying to pick the right sandpaper, wondering what they mean by wet or dry. We started using devices not as tools but as escapes. And then we started confusing our own nature with the qualities inherent in these devices. If I’m tired do I rest? No, a machine doesn’t need rest; a machine needs to keep going. I will drink some wine or I will eat. I feel discouraged. Will I pause, reflect, meditate, pray? Will I allow myself to cry, feel my sadness? Will I talk heart to heart with a friend? Will I take a walk in nature? Will I take a vacation—take the time I need to renew myself from the inside out? Or will I search online and find, “ 11 Ways to Beat Depression Without Missing One Day of Work”?
We can keep going in this direction, so overwhelmed, disconnected and distracted that it seems even the brains of children in utero are affected by this cacophony of human dissonance, or we can just stop. We can remember that we are flesh, bone, hope, sadness, fear, longing, joy.