Excerpt from Lucius Seneca, “On The Shortness of Life”:
It is not that we have a short space of time, but that we waste much of it. Life is long enough, and it has been given in sufficiently generous measure to allow the accomplishment of the very greatest things if the whole of it is well invested. But when it is squandered in luxury and carelessness, when it is devoted to no good end, forced at last by the ultimate necessity we perceive that it has passed away before we were aware that it was passing. So it is—the life we receive is not short, but we make it so, nor do we have any lack of it, but are wasteful of it. Just as great and princely wealth is scattered in a moment when it comes into the hands of a bad owner, while wealth however limited, if it is entrusted to a good guardian, increases by use, so our life is amply long for him who orders it properly.
I went to a yoga retreat for one week in Yelapa, a small village in Mexico, accessible only by boat from Puerto Vallarta. There are no roads in Yelapa and thus, no large hotels, no nightclubs, no casinos. Cell phone signals are weak. The place I stayed during the retreat had no Internet access.
We did yoga twice a day: three hours in the morning, one and a half hours in the afternoon. After each yoga session, we meditated for 20 minutes. In the morning we observed silence during breakfast, on the way to the Sky Temple yoga studio and back down the hill. In the evenings, all we could hear were the rhythmic pounding of the waves, the calls of the birds and the wind. Above us the stars and the Milky Way revealed themselves so clearly. In the city, we never see the vastness of the universe or feel the extreme insignificance of our being.
Something happens to you when you immerse yourself in solitude, when you stop multi-tasking and cease acting like a machine.
When I was not doing yoga or meditating, I read, wrote in my journal, went on long walks, sat on the beach and listened to the birds. Without the constant disruption of email and social networks, I began to settle into a tremendous feeling of calm. By the fourth day of the retreat, I had no desire to check email or go online.
I thought I would fall right into my old patterns on my return home. But this has not been the case. To my surprise, I find myself emailing and tweeting much less, barely checking the social networks I joined, and hardly reading blogs on my RSS newsreader. My powers of concentration have increased and I came to several profound realizations. Something has shifted.
“It was I who had been wrong in wanting life to conform to a preconceived ideal; it was for me to show myself equal to everything life might bring.” — Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter (Mémoirs d’Une Jeune Fille Rangée)
Sherry Turkle’s new book, Alone Together, examines how friending, texting and tweeting are diminishing our capacity to be alone and to experience solitude. Andrew Keen has reviewed the book:
Turkle talks to high school students who are sending 6,000 text messages a day, thereby predicating their whole identity on electronic communications. “If Facebook were deleted, I’d be deleted,” one 16-year-old student confesses to Turkle. Such fascination with social media is fostering what Turkle — a psychoanalytically trained psychologist — calls a “hyper-otherdirectedness” in its proponents, a “collaborative self” that no longer has the ability to be alone and privately reflect on its emotions.
As people become more dependent on what others say about them or how others react toward them, how can they develop a healthy sense of their own being?
This week Google CEO Eric Schmidt boasted to an audience at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona about Google’s ability to create new applications that relieve us of a bit of our humanity:
“With computers, you’re never lonely or bored,” he said. “You never forget anything and you never get lost.”
But I DO want to get lost. When I get lost in cities, wandering down strange alleyways and roads, I discover new things. It’s scary and exciting to get lost. When I’m lonely, I feel the loneliness of other human beings and I become more sensitive and compassionate. When I forget something, I laugh at myself. It’s a chance for me to practice humility. When I’m bored, I ask myself why I’m bored, what I expect from the other people and machines or whatever out there to keep me entertained and why I should be constantly entertained and stimulated. Boredom, loneliness, forgetfulness and getting lost are doors to deeper understanding, wisdom and compassion. I don’t want Mr. Schmidt or any of his company’s applications to take that away from me.