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Living This Life Fully

Choices in Communication

Munindra in close contact with friends
During a hike among the redwood trees along a river, one of my friends brought up an issue she’s been wrestling with. She often feels overwhelmed by the inundation of data on the Internet and in email. I can easily sympathize. Because there's far too much to take in about environmental degradation, poverty, war, abuse of women and children, and other negativity, she finds herself simply hitting DELETE. Then she realizes, “It's so easy to blame the world, but nobody shuts down my heart except me.” How to deal with the joy of letting one’s heart open versus the disappointment at its closing? How to deal with all that’s out there trying to get our attention?

My friend's dilemma raises a question about communication at this time in history. Just as we make choices about what we eat and where we live and whom we're friends with, we need to make choices about practicing in the chaos of modern life and speedy technology. Can we be less noisy and less busy? Does all that tweeting, texting, Internet surfing, and cell-phoning add to our well-being or detract from it? If we remain mindful before, during, and after the activity, we can notice several things that will help us decide whether the activity is a plus or minus in our life and what kinds of limits we need to set, if any. What is our intention in engaging in the activity? How do we feel in the body and mind? I know I've stayed at the computer too long when I start to feel tension in my head and neck and fatigue in my eyes. I try to stop before getting to that discomfort.

In the midst of this reflection, I think of Munindra. He made clear-cut choices about how to spend his time and energy. Because he was so keen on studying Dharma, he did not allow other distractions to consume him. For example, many decades ago, when the Mahabodhi Society wanted him to learn how to type, he declined. He knew that, once he was able to type, many people would besiege him to type letters for them. Concluding that this would take away from his time to study, he said “no.” Similarly, when asked to install a telephone, he again said “no” because it would have meant constant interruptions.

Munindra was not confused about what he wanted to dedicate his life to and did not let extraneous activities use up his precious time. Although he didn’t want to put his energy into a typewriter and a telephone, he did make personal contact a priority. He was available and accessible day and night when someone needed his help.

So I wonder why constant tweeting and texting has become a priority. Someone told me a story about her last Thanksgiving. One of the guests was actually texting during the dinner rather than relating to the other people seated around the table. I remember something similar in the recent movie “It's Complicated.” As Meryl Streep’s character is trying to say goodbye to her daughter leaving for college, she notices that her daughter is occupied with texting. How did electronic communication ever come to trump in-the-flesh contact and communication? Do we only want to relate now through cyberspace rather than directly?

My hiking friend thinks that it'll soon be a novel idea just to go outdoors and really talk with another person. If that becomes a fascinating new trend, then maybe the pendulum will swing back to physical reality and away from virtual reality.
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