Over Connected?

A Facebook friend of mine is on her way to Hawaii on a mother-daughter vacation. She took the bus from where she lives to her city of departure, and then of course flew to Hawaii. From both modes of transportation she reported that wi-fi was available, the bus and later plane were full because it was spring break, and that she was coping through mantra.

I realize for many people it is a wonderful thing that wi-fi is everywhere. I suppose if you are flying for business purposes it is nice to be able to work on the plane, but is it necessary to be connected to the Internet to work on a computer? The truth is that when I fly on an airline with wi-fi I don’t use it because I have forced myself to travel without my laptop whenever possible. Even when I have my laptop along I don’t need to be on the Internet on an airplane, for crying out loud. It’s nice to be disconnected, even for a few hours. I usually take a one way bus trip each summer to join my wife Erin at the band camp where she is a nurse. I confess that since it is a seven hour trip it would be nice to be able to connect my phone to wi-fi (it isn’t available on the bus line I have to take) to reduce my data consumption when I check my email, but it isn’t really necessary.

I can’t help but wonder if we are achieving our sense of worth through a distorted sense of our own self-importance that is fueled by consumer capitalism and if the Internet doesn’t feed into that distortion. More importantly, I am coming to see that distortion as extremely destructive. I ask you to pause for a moment and consider whether or not you need to be plugged in twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

The truth is that any time we seek to establish our worth through external means, we are setting ourselves up for failure because those external means (like everything else) are impermanent. If we believe that our job gives us worth (a very different thing than satisfaction), we are going to be in a great deal of trouble when we lose that job whether through retirement or other causes because it will seem our worth has departed. The same is true of our relationships. If I believe my worth is established through my friends, family, or relationships I am setting myself up for disappointment because every relationship ends because we all die.  What’s more, if we don’t find a way to disconnect the resultant stress will kill us sooner rather than later.

Ask yourself what would happen if you took an Internet holiday, including checking your email, of a week or more? What would happen if you turned off your phone for a week? Would the planet’s orbit around the sun decay? Would life as we know it cease to exist? Worst of all for most of us, would we learn that life would go on without our constant virtual input? Finally, when we discovered our absence from the constant din of connectedness had no great dire consequences, would our self-worth be destroyed? I suspect for many of us such a technology vacation would constitute a large blow to our ego, and it is our ego that is behind all of this thirst for importance.

Our ego is constantly sending us false messages, encouraging us to gather together false icons of importance in the worst kind of self-deception possible because it says that we have no intrinsic value. It’s a process doomed to failure, and we would do well to begin divesting ourselves of is as soon as possible. We cannot divest ourselves of it if we don’t recognize it, and we will need to endorse another measure of self-worth or ego will fill the vacuum created as we disconnect.

What would happen if we agreed and taught one another that the real measure of our self-worth was kindness and compassion? Some will say that kindness and compassion don’t issue a paycheck, and I agree. Go work your job, but find your worth in your ability to be kind and compassionate. I’m not advocating starvation as the path to authentic transformation – it never is! Many of us will find that it’s difficult to be kind and compassionate, and that’s okay. I cannot emphasize strongly enough our need for spiritual practice, our need to sit in silence each day. We need that practice to see life as it is, to see through the nonsense, to allow our own feelings and thoughts to come to the surface so that we can examine them. When we remain constantly busy we repress our feelings and thoughts and they burn inside of us like a massive case of psychic indigestion, eating away at the core of our being.

Of course we could just drive ahead as we are, buying into external sources of validation, being content with them and allowing the constant stress to shorten our life span. That will work, too, because at the moment of death we will look back and see the truth that we never really lived. That’s not the way I want to go out, and I don’t think you do either.

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