Sorry if there is anyone out there who actually reads my posts on a regular basis. If there is, they might suspect this is all very similar to some of my other posts. It’s just that I have recently got stuck on one theme, that of meditation and its close cousin, conscious living. My excuse is that this blog records my ongoing thoughts on such things, not a fixed credo that I worked out long ago.
I think you can spend your time either being ‘here and now’ or drifting off into your own thoughts. Under the category of ‘your own thoughts’ I include watching TV, reading books, surfing the internet, daydreaming and doing crossword puzzles since these all require that you forget where you actually are, or even that you exist at all. To do these activities you could be sitting in your lounge, at the doctor’s surgery, at a bus stop or on a plane and it wouldn’t really matter. To all intents and purposes you are nowhere. These are activities from which you become conscious at intervals and realise that you are not, in fact, in Albuquerque with Walter White but watching a TV program called Breaking Bad in your living room in England.
If you are gazing out over a beautiful landscape or on a date with someone you are mad about, you probably won’t feel tempted to pull out your kindle and start reading to help you while away the time. Instead you will probably want to savour the moment. (I discount adolescents from this, as well as people with adolescent minds, since these will almost certainly still wish to look at their iphones, regardless of the situation).
Wishing to open up your bag and pull out a crossword puzzle while standing on the top of a mountain suggests that you are not really into mountain scenery. Conversely, remaining aware that you are sitting in an armchair watching TV suggests that you are not really into the program you’re watching. And being caught between the two worlds of reality and imagination, giving half your attention to each, is perhaps the worst of both worlds. As Big John Cannon used to say in The High Chaparral, ‘You can only ride one horse at a time’.
I tend to think that if your life experiences have wired your brain in such a way that you easily drifts away into your own thoughts, then why not do so? There is, after all, a kind of logic behind the person we become and though some people might tell you that you shouldn’t drift away to La-La Land, this is a little like saying you should prefer caviar to hamburgers when you don’t. There is not ‘should’ in it.
Even so, sometimes a small voice in my head tells me that the culture that shaped me might have been a bit rubbish and made my tastes equally so. Maybe I should fight against my second nature, as Neo did in The Matrix. So just because a person is in the habit of watching 4 hours of TV a night doesn’t mean he can’t, with a little willpower, break the habit.
Of course, living in an imaginary world of TV and books doesn’t have to be bad. There may be good reasons why you choose to bury your head in computers and books. One such reason could be to educate yourself. After all, you can learn a lot from books and good quality TV. You can begin to grasp how little you know, which was Socrates’ measure of a wise man. Uneducated people often have no inkling of just how ignorant they are. They think that what they know is all there is to know – except for some really pointless, boring stuff like algebra and statistical analysis. They lack the awareness that there might be an ‘unknown unknown’ out there.
And reading isn’t only good for educational purposes. Surely the writings of Shakespeare, George Eliot, Charles Dickens, Vladimir Nabokov and H.G. Wells have made the world a richer place, as have the nature documentaries of David Attenborough or the History Channel’s documentaries. If these things have made the world a more interesting place, why shouldn’t someone spend their time immersing themselves in them?
Even so, just like Neo in The Matrix, I feel that living in a virtual world is not really living. If you were another Sherlock Holmes you wouldn’t need to resort to virtual entertainment to stop yourself from becoming bored. Every second throws up something new to notice. I can’t help thinking that we are losing something by constantly burying our heads in the virtual worlds of TV, computers, iphones and books.
Of course, if I were undergoing a painful operation without anaesthetic or being tortured by some maniac, then I would grab at anything that was likely to distract my mind from the reality of my present situation. But is everyday life really so bad or so boring that we need to be constantly distracted from it?
I wrote all that a couple of years ago and have since come to wonder what we are distracting ourselves from. You see I, along with many other people, fret about becoming distracted from the real task of living but at the same time have no idea what ‘real life’ is. Maybe just noticing stuff every second of the day is not enough to keep the mind occupied and our so-called distractions are a more interesting form of real life. Maybe checking our emails, reading online articles and talking to friends on the phone is what life is all about. It’s just that that sometimes doesn’t seem enough.