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Distraction

by on November 11, 2016

                                                              Distraction

                                                        by Marco M. Pardi

“To be able to fill leisure intelligently is the last product of civilization, and at present very few people have reached this level.” Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) The Conquest of Happiness. 1930.

My delay in publishing this piece is partially due to the recent elections.  Since a troll has penetrated this site with the intent to disrupt or destroy my marriage I have published my analysis of the election through a different venue. That this troll will not confront me directly is not surprising; even dimmer lights can sometimes perceive their own ill preparedness.

All comments welcome.  To those readers who have been hesitant to comment or ask questions, please be assured you may do so freely. In recent days several new people have signed on as followers, enabling them to comment freely, and it is hoped they will. All previous posts are open for comment by clicking on “uncategorized”. Reader participation keeps this site vibrant. MMP

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“I’m bored.” “So read a book.”  “What’s on tv?” and on and on. Sound familiar?  Now that I’m mostly retired from much of the work I’ve done for years I am facing the “What day is it?” syndrome.  During those years I’ve seen several older acquaintances and relatives slide into increasingly longer bouts of nodding off in front of the daytime television. I could never imagine that.  Still can’t.

Writing this blog is meaningful to me. I hope that’s obvious.  Some would say get out and travel.  I’ve done that, but I’ve also traveled so much during my work years I sometimes joked that I should get paid for patrol duties. I always found the best part of personal traveling was the odd chance I would meet and communicate with someone intelligent and interesting.  But the trips on which that did not happen are starting to outweigh the few on which it did.  And I’ve never been a person to compile a “must see” list; I have mountains of photographs I never look at.  So, what now?

Although I went through the comic book phase before the plethora of Super Power comics erupted, there were some notables. Superman had X-Ray vision, etc., Batman had remarkable strength, and so on but my favorite superpower was featured on an evening radio show.  Each evening, at the appointed hour, the announcer would intone, “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? LaMonte Cranston knows. He is…….The Shadow.” How amazing! How challenging! What could one do to develop such a power? And, what would one do with it?

Perhaps influenced by The Shadow I ventured deeply into the maelstrom of my ever active, sometimes almost kaleidoscopic mind.  Coming up for air I looked around at classmates and wondered if they, too, had such a never ending torrent of thoughts.  If so, what were they, what were they based on, what would it be like to get inside that theater?      

In college I explored Psychology, took some courses, got A’s, but decided the field was two dimensional.  It seemed to have pre-ordained boxes into which to fit people, and had nowhere near the depth I was seeking.  I realized the existential impossibility of “getting into someone’s head”, but still wondered how and why people seek distraction.  Oh, I realize the therapeutic value of distraction at times, and I’ve often been told I “think too much.” To which I wanted to respond, “And, what, you walk around blank?” Further along in college I was still curious and took a graduate level course in Criminology.  I did this specifically at that level because the course included face-to-face interviews with prisoners, from petty crime to hard time.  In having those talks I found substantial verification of a claim I had often heard: More than anything else, prisoners fear solitary confinement.  That is, real solitary confinement with no television, radio, reading material or ways to communicate with other prisoners.  From the several interviews I did I got the impression older prisoners feared this less than did the younger ones.  Older prisoners told me younger prisoners sometimes volunteered to willing guards to “take a turn in the box”, to see how long they could last.  Not long.  And, the guards cooperated out of the belief that letting them experience it would keep them in line for the duration of their sentence.  I have no data by which to evaluate that but it’s an interesting thought.

In the 1990’s I flew to Ireland to spend 10 days with two aged priests in hospice care.  Lifelong friends of my family, they were of the Colomban (“Irish Catholic”) order.  One was Archbishop of Hanoi when the communists took over and put him in a solitary dungeon for 15 years. The other was in solitary confinement in China for 10 years. Neither was in any shape to talk about his life and were in fact quite near death.  But they had been released years ago, visited my family members in the U.S., and were then mentally sound if not physically normal.  Traveling all the time, I never got to connect with them until those 10 days at the Colomban hospice in Navan, some kilometers north of Dublin.  I was never able to have a conversation about how one adapts with nothing to “distract” the self, how one lives in a completely empty cell with no contact with the outside world.  Of course, we have better known examples of solitary confinement, such as Nelson Mandela. But I understand he did have a kind of limited social life with his jailers.  And people were allowed to visit from time to time.

Psychiatric studies have shown that people in isolation, as well as many non-human animals, sink into severe mental illness fairly quickly. This has been shown repeatedly in non-human animals who have lost a mate or buddy. Lifespan is dramatically reduced. Even alcohol and drug addiction recovery groups stress strongly that self isolation is destructive and will lead to using again.  Which should raise the question of whether “social media” are adequate replacements for face-to-face human interaction.

We are now seeing numerous studies and articles citing a decline in inter-personal skills and even an upsurge in previously unthinkable hostility attributed to the growth in social media.  The ability to hide behind a “screen name” seems to bring out outrageous behavior. Yet, I do not think that behavior is generated by the media as much as it is facilitated by the media.  So does that mean some people we meet on a cordial face-to-face basis are not who they appear? Apparently so.

But distraction has been a holy grail for a long time, well understood and utilized by the marketing specialists. I’ve known people who, feeling badly, go shopping.  The phrase “buyer’s remorse” has become commonplace. “I thought this would make me happy” is a common refrain. Instead of devoting time to introspect and to address the causes of their unsettled state people are encouraged to direct their attention to externals, to mindless television programs, to the latest SALE, to the latest earphones that must be operative even during solitary walks around the neighborhood. Dating services employ questions such as, What music do you listen to, who are your favorite actors, and so on. How many of them encourage a patron to ask their date, Who are you?

Along with the information Age we are experiencing information overload.  But the real problem with the information is its ability to capture the mind even when its about to make a self discovery.  We have made ourselves open to a multi-verse of information which, by its speed and it volume, deprives us of being able to process any significant part of it for its relevance to us.

Decades ago there was great interest in Tantric disciplines.  The “Right Hand Tantra” and the “Left Hand Tantra” were briefly examined before the next fad arose and they were forgotten.  But the principles remain.  One form, the Right Hand, espoused an often austere meditation while the Left Hand opened itself to all of life. We can appreciate this distinction when we contrast being in an utterly silent room with being in a crowded restaurant where the noise level is such that no particular sound is intelligible.  I found some of my best study opportunities in college where in the loud, noisy snack bar.

In a silent room do we feel the urge to turn on the tv?  In a noisy room do we feel urge to flee?  The old library at Harvard had a noisy ventilation system, with random clacks and pops.  The upgrade brought utter silence. Many students fled.

How much distraction do we need in our lives? And what purpose is it serving?

 

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16 Comments
  1. This post is a distraction in itself 😛

  2. Retirement has been a weird place. I had so many plans to do all the things I couldn’t when working. And then this weird thing happens. When you have all the time you don’t accomplish anything. You once said something to that affect. About the less you do, the less you want to do, or something along those lines. My sister-in-law said, ” I really appreciate now the expression, “If you want something done, ask a busy person.” You can keep a multitude of tasks spinning like plates while you address one or two at a time, but when the plates drop, it’s hard to pick just one up and get it spinning.” Now that I have time to read it takes me forever to get through a book. And actually I don’t want any distractions these days. I’m fortunate to live in an extremely quiet setting. That makes noise so much more noticeable. So much so, I hate leaving to go anywhere. I don’t think people realize what a toll noise takes. My perfect day is sitting on my deck with my dogs looking at the mountains.

    • Thank you, Mary. Your comments are insightful, and I think you capture the unspoken dread so many feel toward retirement – Aaaagghh, suddenly I can no longer make excuses for not getting things done. Like you, we need to re-examine why we felt so strongly about getting them done. Then sit on the deck with the dogs and enjoy the view.

  3. Ray Rivers permalink

    I never call myself retired. That I am aged is obvious from my appearance – I don’t need to use that dreadful terminology over the undertaker in waiting. Read as Mary does, sing and write as I do – go for long walks or just watch TV. It doesn’t matter anymore – there are no acceptable boundaries once you have given up the day job. Leonard Cohen died last night but he performed to the end – that is how I want to go – I will retire only when I’m in my coffin.

    A friend of mine went to her grandfather’s funeral only to discover that he had died in the throes of orgasm with his mistress. There was much hush-hush chatter at the service and even the mistress made an appearance – that is how I want to go… well I’m in a loving relationship so just let me die singing an L. Cohen song.

    • Great philosophy, Ray. Calling one’s self retired implies one defined one’s self through a particular career. Perhaps Redirected is a more accurate term. Haven’t thought much about how I want to die. Used to envision a quiet, secluded forest glen where I could lie down and enjoy it. Would rather not die standing up. I consider that bad form.

      A faculty colleague died on break between classes. The class did extend him the professor’s 15 minutes to be late. Then they left. Other things to do, you know.

  4. It just occurred to me having time to enjoy blogs/email/articles is one of the pleasures of life slowing down a bit. I don’t count them as distractions. And that at 60, I have been able to find a college professor I had when I was 20, who had a profound affect on my life, and am now engaged in communication and honored to read his writings, is remarkable. There are some pretty good things about living in this day and time.

    • Thank you, Mary. I also marvel at our connection and am much the better for it. This is the positive side of We live in interesting times. Marco

  5. Julie permalink

    Ah distraction – yes I personally think smart phones have a lot to answer for – even though a great addition to our lives in lots of ways, there is i believe, a definite downside. People love to use them as a distraction and can be a powerful way to disengage people, i feel especially the younger generation who know nothing else – i can see differences in interpersonal skills of the younger ones coming through the workplace and wonder what the world will be like in the future. I also feel this technology also contributes to people losing connections with each other – being partners, children etc and stops people talking and engaging with each other and that feeds into isolation 😮

  6. Thank you, Julie. I agree, and would add that the volume of distractions contributes to rendering thought on any given subject more shallow and giving us the results we recently saw in the presidential election. We are increasingly encouraged to not think things through.

  7. Silent solitude is my favorite state of being; I am content with my own thoughts. That said, I find that my life is full of distractions which seem always to keep me from accomplishing even those things which are most important to me. There is so much to be done, and yet the laws of time expansion seem to keep even the most mundane of tasks from being accomplished.

    My two cents on the latest election: The puppet masters did a masterful job of keeping our eyes away from what they didn’t want us to see. Put a ball cap on a billionaire to make him appear to be one of middle America, then throw (false) accusations,( dropped at the last possible moment, of course) at his opponent any time one of his flaws tried to come into focus. I’ve never seen dirty politics played so well, or so successfully. It’s been a regular Punch and Judy show, and I fear the curtain has been dropped on all of us.

    • Thank you, Rose. Obviously, I share your dismay and I suspect you are as un-surprised as I am, given your deep insights into our society. At our age, this is tragic. But for our children and grandchildren this is beyond labels.

      Oh, how I know the joys of solitude, and get plenty of it. Sometimes I wish for a doppleganger to attend to the stuff that intrudes on daily life.

  8. Mark Dohle permalink

    This is really good Marco. You talk about isolation and describe it well. There are men in our culture who need lots of time alone but can’t get it, or have not learned to develop it at all. Then there is the compulsion for isolation. I do believe that distraction is one way of isolating, just as much as taking drugs and getting addicted to drinking or sex. It is a way to fill up that deep inner silence with something, anything. The problem with pleasure, which is what isolation and distraction promise, does not even begin to touch the deeper aspect of what it is to be human, by that I would say the soul.

    It is funny, that we are made for relationship, deep ones, yet we run from them because they can bring us so much pain and distress……yet to go the other way, in reality only brings more of it. Endless cycles of seeking escape but in the end being only more alienated from ourselves and others.

    Being in a monastery, it can take years to adapt to the point that inner pain and the compulsion to seek escape can be dealt with in a loving manner and something not to be feared. The first years here were one of withdrawal and it took time for me to become more attuned to the joys and trials of solitude. Solitude is alive, deep and it gives life and healing to the soul, even when enduring deep pain and struggle. For in order to grow we have to stop and turn around (conversion) and face in humility what is there.

    I do believe that we have two choices. One of them is not to become a mature adult. I have not met any in my lifetime, and when I am alone I don’t feel like an adult let alone a mature one, I am a consciousness period. Jesus said we are to become little children, or if not that, we become childish, self-centered, manipulative and deeply unhappy. When we learn to be naked before the infinite, no matter how ugly or painful that is, is when we begin our true journey I believe. Once it is learned that we really can’t be alone before the infinite which sees all, that can lead to a great deal of inner freedom leading to a childlike openness to one’s existence and not a desire to run into distraction as you put it so well.

    I still struggle at times, but now I understand that even the worst moments or the most boring ones are precious and fleeting and understanding this allows a different texture to reality to arise leading to compassion for self and others. For we are in this together…The Golden Rule only makes sense when we learn this. It is not some sort of shallow precept, but flows from a deep sense of who is seeking to live out that rule.

    Thanks for the thoughtful article as usual my dear friend and brother.

    Peace
    mark

    • Thank you, Mark. As you and I have discussed, had my life circumstances been different I am reasonably certain I would have spent my life, or a major part of it, in a monastery of some sort. I feel that is just one of the bonds you and I have. I admit, when I think of what I know of your lifestyle, there are aspects that still make me uncertain of how long I could last. But you have often described the growth you have experienced in your calling and in my musing I would hope that would have happened with me. And, as we have discussed, I do feel the general public does not have a good understanding of monastic life. That was a main reason I brought that mixed NDE group to the monastery so many years ago. And I was very pleased with the expressions of surprise, peace, and new understanding that came from it.

      Thank you, Brother

  9. An interesting and thoughtful piece. I especially liked “We have made ourselves open to a multi-verse of information which, by its speed and it volume, deprives us of being able to process any significant part of it for its relevance to us.” I feel that some people have become “social media zombies”, alerted to every Twitter and Facebook update but without a single free moment in which to process anything. At least with blog posts their length does encourage and require a degree of concentration. I suspect that zombification is also good for keeping citizens in the role of mindless consumers.

    • Thank you very much for your comment. I’m honored you took the time to do so. I appreciate the thoughts you put into the comment, and sincerely hope you will consider commenting on other posts of mine as well. By the way, you may sign on as a follower with no repercussions. You will be notified of all new posts that way. Again, Thank you. Marco

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