Another year fades to memories and dust. As usual, a handful of rich and famous people died. Millions more ordinary (not famous, obscure, or forgotten) people joined or preceded them. Fortunately, you and I are not in either group, so if you are still at a loss for reasons to celebrate on New Year’s eve, this alone should be at the top of your list: You are alive!
I pause from tapping at the keyboard to stare out the window at the trees, empty of their greenery, and at the dull, leaden sky that seems to define a Seattle winter for so many. A seagull passes, but for the most part, there is little movement. My mind rests; I am not seeking out movement, but instead, embracing the stillness.
The house is quiet, and street traffic is infrequent, as if all the world has paused between cosmic breaths, reflecting, resting, remembering an unnameable presence which nourishes. Describing this “presence” in one word, “goodness” comes first to mind. But my descriptions remains crudely inadequate and will never satisfy or delight you for very long. You need to taste “it” for yourself, for this is the ultimate opportunity, the actualization of your full potential that is possible while you still breathe – transcending the imposed meanings via human language, experiencing things in their original pristine state. But how does one do that anymore, in this age of high speed distraction?
Something shakes me out of the stillness. I habitually reach for my mobile phone, succumbing once again to the unconscious urge to leave the stillness, as if I am missing something by being quiet and still, as if I might be guilty of being lazy, as if I am in danger of making a discovery which will shake the very foundations of my being. I am in just such “danger”, though the only “person” at risk is the false ego which pretends to run the show, the “I”, “me”, “mine” that lurks somewhere behind my eyeballs. Have you ever found this trickster? Have you ever really tried?
The average person checks their smartphone about 150 times a day. Modern social conditioning and coffee drills and jolts us into being busy. Notions of productivity, and industry place positive social value upon mirroring the activity of the very machines that have engulfed our lives since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. Capitalist-industrial stereotypes have endured to the point where our very sense of self worth today hinges upon material accomplishment – completed projects, check-marks on lists, positive feedback, praise, and admiration from our bosses, parents, co-workers, teachers, friends.
But true productivity springs from spiritual wisdom, and these ever arise from letting go, being still, not forcing, allowing, not seeking, but merely noticing. Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 masterpiece, “2001, A Space Odyssey”, artfully reminds us of the inherent danger that our civilization faces in its marriage to the machine and the inevitable mindless passing of time that ensues when Google (Hal) takes over every function of waking consciousness. We become the machine, or in science fiction terms, the machine becomes us. Kubrick also hints at the door of transcendence to the next dimension.
Nearly 50 years later, our culture continues its struggle to crack the proverbial nut of how to live in balance with modern technology, the 24 hour global online marketplace, and the rapidly approaching ecological limits imposed by chemistry – our soil, water, and air. Our unquenchable desire for material consumption, personal mobility, and anything other than simply being here and now, in the present moment, has brought us to this precarious moment. And collectively, the dominant pathways of American culture are leading us to the realization that there is little peace, only more anxiety, fear, and disease. “Minimalism, A Documentary About the Important Things” (2016), mirrors this mind journey back to us in a sometimes comical, sometimes tragic, always enlightening film, and like Kubrick a half century ago, opens the doorway for us to a passage beyond our existential crisis. Check it out.
Enjoy these last moments of 2016. May the New Year bring many moments of mindful awareness. Whether you are looking for inspiration to further the many important struggles of social justice, or simply seeking better health and happiness, I invite you to realize in 2017 a way of less doing, striving, craving, consuming, and more breathing, being, seeing, awakening. As Einstein said “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Thank you for sharing this journey with me.