Going offline

The first snowstorm of the year came yesterday, high howling winds, blowing snow, and a power outage. It was no big deal, Upaya stayed warm, and thanks to the gas stoves lunch was served on time. But something very different did happen. For the first time in my three months here, residents drifted into the living room. Draped themselves over chairs. And lazily, cozily, conversed in shared space.

Normally everyone would have been off rapping away, alone with our little white boxes. But no power means, no Internet.

As soon as the power came back on everyone scurried away like cockroaches, including me.

I am an addict. I check my email and my twitter feed numerous times a day. I don’t do facebook because, well, that would be like giving a quart of vodka to an alcoholic. I do it to the point of distraction, I do it til my eyes hurt, I do it til my back aches, I do it when the sun is casting a golden glow and the air is perfect and I’ve been indoors all day but…I do it, because I can’t bear to be with myself. I tell myself I don’t need it, and I’d be fine without it. But do I ever put that to the test? No. It takes me away from intimacy—with my environment, my community, myself.

Now PLEASE don’t rise up and give me a lecture. You do not need to defend this marvel or your own use of it. I am not a luddite, not a technophobe, not an Internet-hater. I am fully aware of the opportunities this medium affords me. I wouldn’t have been able to make my living without it. And it has been, is, and will continue to be one of my main creative outlets. Obviously, I am aware of the irony, that you wouldn’t be reading this otherwise. And this I do truly believe: this technology is absolutely central to getting our species out of the mess we have gotten ourselves into. It connects us in ways that were previously unimaginable. It is truly a miracle, and I am grateful for it every day.

But it is pure delusion to pretend that a medium this powerful does not have its dark side. Like any powerful tool – like, say, cars! – it is so useful, so convenient, and so prone to abuse. I hate myself for getting mindlessly sucked into the box for hours on end, to no real purpose but distraction. And anything that makes me hate myself, is something I need to address.

You’d think all this meditating and stuff would have cured my addiction, and it has taken me at least half way there – I see it. But where do I go from here?

On Nov. 19 I will be going offline for 3 weeks, for our Fall Practice Period. With the exception of sesshin (the last 7 days of the period), going offline is recommended but not mandatory. This will be the first time I have been completely offline, for more than a few days, in almost 20 years. I am thinking of it as a mental cleanse, a detox. I don’t think I’ll go mad or cease to exist, but you never know.

Also I am thinking: Unwired Wednesdays. Every Wednesday, totally offline – starting now. Do you have any strategies, for how to have a healthy relationship with this technology? Please share.

6 Responses to “Going offline”

  1. Rayann Says:

    nice one carmen.

    i feel the same. and the more i practice, the more i notice how the tightness of having the screen close and my attention rapidly dividing between windows and thoughts is a direct reaction to space. the internet is about fear of space for me often.

    one day a week off sounds good. other than that long retreat periods have made a huge difference for me. in the new year i will be moving in to solitary retreat for about 3 months, only getting online once every 10 days or less. this time i look forward to it. to a more embodied life, of having to ration food supplies, of getting snowed in, tending fires and practicing and practicing some more.

    anyways, i am happy for you, sobering up and all.

  2. Patti Powell Says:

    I’m proud of you, Carm, and I too value the internet and also know that I use it to avoid myself, and my lonely, scared, hopeless feelings.

    I’ll miss your missives but applaud you for taking a step back to see the relationship more clearly. I am inspired, and now think that maybe I could do this too! Starting at one day/week sounds like a wise start.

    I’ve noticed that I’ve been ending and starting the day with the internet. I’m making sure I go to bed with a book now, and not log on until I’ve had breakfast and gotten outa bed.

    Happy rediscovering of self. Love you!

  3. Patti Powell Says:

    Carmen, would you be ok with me reposting this to facebook or twitter? I will abide by your wishes.

  4. carmen Says:

    twitface away! 🙂

    and congrats, go for it…i think that we will all discover so many good things to do and to not do, when habitually running to the box is not one of them.

  5. Sarah Says:

    I’m going to print out your post and tape it to my computer screen and attempt to wrench myself away as well.

    I have a young child and lots of books to read and stuff to organized and forest walks to go on. I have been generally good about being present for my child (although not always) Ideally I only want to be one the computer when she’s sleeping but then I spend her whole nap typing and have to make dinner when she wakes up. I’ve taken to turning my computer all the way OFF when I’m done checking email, which means I have to turn it on to check it again – that’s a good deterrent. And sometimes I don’t start it until the evening, which is even better. But your post is a good wake up call. We got rid of TV when my daughter was born and I think it’s time for me to address this VIP in my living room – and make sure I’m acting like it’s my daughter and not the computer!

  6. carmen Says:

    Every time i enter the zendo I bow to the statue of Manjushri, with her sword raised above her head, to cut through delusion. Congrats to all you heroes raising your swords high. Unwired Wednesday was a great success – i napped, knitted, and missed nothing. Who’s gonna join me next week?

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