There once was a stone, riddled with tiny holes like the moon is with craters; darkened by the seasons and the earth, it lay near the bottom of a hill, as if holding the hill at bay. Cheery shoots of green grass sprouted around it. During the day, the sun shone brightly upon this stone, and as the day passed, darkness descended stealthily around it. No one knew how this stone had come to lie upon a round green hill far from the wild waters that shaped it.
It was a thing of beauty, a joy to behold. In the centuries it had survived, the stone had encountered a great many things, but few understood the language it spoke.
And so people, stepping over it, gave it little thought.
At the top of the hill were several trees, with thick dark bark at the base dividing into two or three silvery grey branches that rose up, curving gracefully, branching again and thinning out. As the branches spread out in the air, reaching up toward the sky, so the roots snaked around, down the hill, holding tightly to the earth, as big as, or perhaps bigger than, the branches above. The trees swayed in strong winds and lost their leaves in autumn, were defined by tendrils of white snow in winter, and rustled their leaves in the lightest breeze in summer. There was a great mystery in them – how did they grow so tall and elegant out of the dark earth, sway lightly in the harshest winds, and reach up into the sky as if it were the most natural thing in the world?
But they remained at the top of the hill every day.
And so people, passing beneath them, gave them little thought.
People, modern people, rarely give such things much thought. Instead, their gazes linger – for a few short seconds – on more eye-catching pictures of far-off lands or people. The sea in those pictures is bluer than the real sea, the greens of the vegetation shine brighter, and the people are more wonderful-looking, but who cares? This great photography is art, right?
The Internet likes to give us little batches of such pictures at a time, the whole thing titled (like a million other similar groups of pictures) “10 Amazing Photos You Need to See.” People find themselves drowned in these pictures, or short videos, or witty one-liners or small pieces of unimportant news, all seeking attention, all claiming to be essential. They fill their minds with this information, hour after hour, day after day. Thoughts of what wonderful images or words they might be missing out on while eating or working plague them. So, last thing before bed, first thing on awakening, and many times in between, they fill their heads with this “content.”
If we try hard enough and long enough, we can teach our brains new behaviors, right?
And if we condition our minds to hours of shallow thoughts, skimming from one picture to another, one small “extremely significant” quote after another, will we have trouble concentrating and thinking more deeply?
Do we already have such trouble?
You are the best judge for yourself.
But, for my part, I feel like a fly struggling in a web wrought by a malicious spider.
Every day is the same as the one before it, and yet it is not. There is no respite; every task has a shadow of distraction hovering over it. Often this shadow looms and becomes real; but the hovering, the awful hovering, making the mind flit back and forth like a trapped fish from the task at hand to the message that might (or might not) arrive, is the worst. The mind cannot stop dreading; anxiety takes hold and colors every moment we live. And the heart, weary of these constant intrusions, will not feel light.
Can you feel yourself living? Is this how you will spend the rest of your days, anxiously scrolling, looking for some digital debris to fill up a minute? How can you find peace of mind when your mind is scattered, broken into pieces, all the time? Can we rouse ourselves from this sleepwalking and awaken to something wonderful, without the screen brightness tearing at our tired eyes or dividing our minds? Surely all our living is not meant to be a bad dream that we will wake from eventually, but not right now? Surely longing for peace does not have to be synonymous with looking forward to death?
Perhaps being more conscious is the answer. Consciously making decisions to pay more attention to the world around us, instead of following the urge of the moment and reacting, just might help us push back the constant distractions technology bestows upon us. For instance, if you decide to go for a walk, you might feel that you cannot walk without choosing the right music to walk to, and so find that you spend the whole walk just thinking about what song would best complement it. In this case, ask yourself why choosing a song has become more important than the walk itself. What was the purpose of the walk? Did you completely lose track of that? Pay attention to how often and for what purpose you use your phone. And perhaps it would be a good idea to put it aside from time to time and practice living without it.
Focus on the world around you.
Did you recognize the place I described at the beginning of this piece?
Go there, and lie like a stone, inert on the hill with the sun shining down on you; breathe in and watch the sky, or the trees. Try doing nothing for a while. Can you calm your mind down? Do you find yourself itching for your phone? Do you want to live this way?