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A Call for Presence in an Age of Distraction

How addiction to our devices is a call for healing

It’s an undeniable fact that our screens carry an enticing allure that causes most of us to lose ourselves in a virtual world for at least some part of every day. This doesn’t thrill me, yet because I’m steeped in the Jungian tradition which understands from a psychological perspective that we live in a world informed by the principle of equal but opposite forces, I seek to understand this addiction with the awareness that embedded in the impulse to distract is an invitation to become more present.

Just like…

… there is no day without night,

… winter and summer are polarities that orbit around each other’s centerpoint just as spring and autumn kiss at each other’s toes,

… hunger and satiety share a realm in our bodies, and

… fear and love share a chamber in our hearts,

so we can apply this same principle to the twin qualities of presence and distraction. We’re living in an age where the propensity toward distraction is rampant. We can either blame the phones or we can ask, “What is being invited at this threshold of human evolution?”

Just like our struggle with fear and anxiety invites us to step into a new level of open-heartedness – and, in fact, the depth of fear is commensurate with the depth of love – so the level of distraction that we’re seeing today indicates that we’re being invited to step into a new level of presence, which means that we need to recognize that embedded in the pull toward distraction is the invitation toward presence – that every time we feel the compulsive, magnetic pull to check a screen we can ask, “What is fueling this impulse? What feeling am I trying to avoid by checking the screen? What am I hoping to find in my email or Facebook thread or Instagram feed?” Simply asking these questions brings us into the present moment, and because of our pervasive opportunities to escape we’re invited into presence more times a day than ever before!

The answer isn’t to banish screens and return to a pre-technological age; I’m not even sure that’s possible at this point. The call is learn to accept the invitation encased in the addiction to distraction, and recognize that we’re being pulled along the invisible evolutionary threads that inspires humans to grow.

The gift is contained within the vice itself.

It’s not only our ability and willingness to be present that we’re being called to grow; it’s also solitude, silence and reflection, and the kind of reflection that only occurs in solitude.

What happens when you take time to sit under the umbrella of a sacred moment, when, instead of taking a photo of the moment and posting it on Instagram you listen fully to your solitude and silence until you can hear the raindrops of your soul watering your own soil?

What happens if, when you wake up in the morning – when your eyelids slowly, achingly open to meet the morning light – instead of reaching for your phone to scroll and click you reach for the dream image that is still playing on the edges of consciousness before it evaporates like bubbles in air?

What might happen if, at the day’s end, you pause at an open window long enough to look up into the night sky and receive the wisdom of moonlight? What secrets might she whisper down on silver threads?

What happens if you turn off all screens for 24 hours each week, not only off but shut down completely? If that causes you to gasp (as it often does when I suggest it to my clients), consider putting your screens in another room for a portion of the day and notice what happens inside.

What happens when you take a walk alone without a gadget in your ear? Or drive in silence without even music to break the silence?

What happens is that you come face-to-face with yourself in this moment, in present time, and in those brief moments of silence and solitude you meet your pain, yes, the parts of you that you’ve stuffed into the long black shadow bag, as Robert bly refers to the metaphoric inner bag that carries the parts of us that we deemed unlovable in early years, but also, if you can dare to imagine, your places of light: the poem that longs to be written, the song that needs to be sung, the sweet tears of grief that are waiting to fall into your cupped hands.

It takes courage to meet ourselves exactly where we are. It requires commitment and fortitude to resist the magnetic pull to gravitate toward screens every hour of every day. As very few of us were raised in a way that conditioned us to turn toward our anxiety and grief instead of away and because we’re biologically wired to recoil from pain, the human and cultural response to pain is to run instead of embrace. But this is exactly what’s being asked: to notice the ways in which we distract from the uncomfortable places inside and turn toward them the way we would a hurt child. It’s this one choice that will ultimately, even if not right away, lead to more fullness, awakening, and joy.

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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