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Life Plugged in, Life Unplugged

Ever since I wrote that post back in August about creating more space - and I'm sure before then - I've thought about how rarely I have moments in the day where I'm not reading something, listening to something, watching something, or doing something.  Idleness.  Moments where my mind can just go where it'll go.

Too often the only time that happens is when I'm meditating for my 7 or so minutes in the morning - and then I wonder why I can't seem to turn my brain off or turn my interest inward.

Reading Kris Carr's weekly blog, she quoted a friend of hers, Cheryl Richardson, as saying something that really struck a nerve:  "When we lose connection to our spirit, the outer world and all its stimulating distractions become more alluring."

(Can you say iPhone?)

The very next morning, I was reading a passage from Rolf Gates's Meditations from the Mat in which he quoted Henri J. M. Nouwen, who Google kindly tells me was a respected Dutch priest who published many books on spirituality.  Nouwen wrote, "When the deepest currents of our life no longer have any influence on the waves at the surface, then our vitality will eventually ebb, and we will end up listless and bored even when we are busy."

The final inspiration was this New York Times article called "Hurricane Sandy Reveals a Life Unplugged," about how people who were mercifully unaffected by the hurricane in any life threatening way dealt with their power loss - most notably, how their children and family unit coped with loss of power.

Reading the article, I found myself feeling all high and mighty and more than a little judgmental of this upcoming generation's frankly frightening addiction to phones, iPads, and computers...and then I checked Facebook.

When I got back to being introspective, I realized that for all my lofty goals and expectations of how I'll be someday as a parent in terms of setting technology limits (no cell phones for kindergarteners, for God's sake), I was addicted to our mouseless Dos computer as a kid, playing games and writing short stories.  You couldn't tear me away from Windows 95, Microsoft Word, and America Online (remember instant messaging??) as a middle schooler.  In high school, I was obsessed with an online message board and counted my online friends as some of my best.  In fact, I met my oldest friend through the Internet.

As for today?  My iPhone is never too far from my grasp and Facebook never goes unchecked for too long.  Although I like to let myself off the hook by using the excuse that it's imperative for my work (and it is), it's also my responsibility to set limits for myself.

As Cheryl Richardson so eloquently and simply stated, the more we're distracted by or reaching for outside things, the less we're satisfied with our most basic relationship with our spirit.  In yoga, the yama aparigraha and the niyama santosha are huge, huge factors in this particular spiritual struggle.

Aparigraha is often defined as "non-grasping" or "greedlessness."  Nischala Joy Devil in The Secret Power of Yoga: A Woman's Guide to the Heart and Spirit of the Yoga Sutras interprets it as "abundance."  By acknowledging the abundance we already possess, we have the ability to say "Enough" and resist waste and over-accumulation.

Santosha is a bit easier to define - most sources agree on the translation of "contentment" or "I am content."  Easy to define, hard to practice each day.

New York City in particular is a really challenging place to practice these two principles.  Nearly every single street you walk down houses a clothing store, a convenience store, a delicious restaurant or pastry shop or food truck or Halal cart.  Opportunity and temptation to spend money and acquire new things are everywhere you look - not to mention you can have essentially anything you want delivered to your door at anytime.  It's tough to stay a sensible spender or remember that you don't actually need 47 more pairs of yoga pants.  It's also tough to feel content when you're in a city that's filled with some of the most driven, ambitious workaholics on the planet always seeking more success, more validation, more accomplishments, more money.  It's one of the things I love so much about the city, but it's also one of the ways in which it can be exhausting - in every possible way.

It's one of the oldest cliches in the book and it's absolutely true:  Money doesn't buy happiness.  Money very often buys regret.  It can certainly afford you and your family a certain amount of stability, standard of living, and security, but as we most recently learned from Sandy, all of that can be wiped away in the blink of an eye.

Just as money doesn't buy happiness, the bursts of dopamine your brain releases when you get a new email, text, or Facebook notification don't give it to you either.

What I've come to believe is this:  The more constantly plugged in you are to the external world, the more unplugged you will likely be from your internal strength of spirit.  The more plugged in you are to your spirit, the less you need that constant plug-in to the outside world.

I'm not saying throw your iPhone on the subway tracks and move to a cabin in Vermont - although that does sound nice some days.  I'm not saying shirk your responsibilities by any means to this external world, or that the external world is intrinsically evil.  But set some limits for yourself.  Be your own guardian just as parents are (or should be) guardians of what their children are exposed to.  You know how every single study on how to fall asleep more easily says no electronics a half hour before bed?  Try that.  (It's harder than it sounds, at least for me)  Don't check your email while you're still laying in bed in the morning having just woken up.  Give yourself a little space throughout the day, and just be with you.  Let that be enough.


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