Thursday, December 16, 2010

Musing Philosophically on a Gray and Snowy Day

Snow is starting to accumulate. Schools are released early and after school activities are canceled. I am home early from work and hunkering down to write.

One of the things I spend time thinking about, particularly in a candle-lit, tea and Bach moment such as this, is how to make and sustain (or repair) beneficial connections in an increasingly fragmented and disconnected world. If my smart phone is a tether, as some suggest, so be it. Living alone and un-tethered in a mountaintop monastery is not the life for me. 

Granted, I feel a real need for moments of mindfulness, meditation, prayer, and solitude. Such moments are a necessary antidote to the otherwise potentially overwhelming stimulation of modern urban life. But to permanently withdraw from the fray seems extreme, even selfish. Suppose a life spent in solitary prayer would guarantee one a state of enlightenment. Would such a life be worth living? Has a Buddhist monk who achieves Nirvana made a difference in the world, or only improved himself? I am not questioning the pursuit of enlightenment, just asking, “Are we here on this Earth to change only ourselves?”

Perhaps I am merely revealing a New World / Christian bias, but it seems to me that the point of life is to grow, yes, but beyond that, to help others grow. The bit about helping others requires us to not only be in the stream of all living things, but to interact in some (hopefully) mutually beneficial way. We don't pull ourselves out to sit on the embankment, or curl up to retreat within our innermost selves, except to rest, and after resting, promptly get back in the flow. Life is interaction, and in particular, interaction with others.

So, being connected is a good thing, right? And like all good things, more is better, right? This brings up the obvious question: Is there such a thing as too much connectedness? In an effort to avoid isolation, could one err to the opposite extreme, and become over-connected?  I imagine a how a person, possibly afraid of being alone, might become a compulsive joiner or an inveterate channel surfer who lives in a state of perpetual distraction. I also imagine the personal relationships for that person to be fleeting and shallow.

Achieving balance between the extremes and nurturing those beneficial relationships may hinge on motive. Do we retreat to recharge, or to avoid the messiness and compromise of living in the stream? Do we connect to help and be helped, or to avoid the pain and loneliness of isolation?

Depending on one’s motive, some temporary periods of either isolation or over-exposure may be a positive thing. Key questions: Have I managed to stay between the extremes of hermitage and hyper-connectedness? Am I neither anti-social nor a compulsive joiner? Have I mastered the Information Age’s balancing act well enough to retain my identity as an individual without over-committing to groups and causes?  What about the quality (as opposed to the quantity) of my relationships? Could I be more helpful if I were actually less connected?

While I am decidedly not interested in unplugging from the world, I may be flirting with the other extreme. Look: WaldenU, YouTube, eBay, FaceBook, Twitter, LinkedIn, BeerPal, BlastOff, a dozen email accounts, various and sundry listservs, membership in 100 organizations and groups, and of course, this blog. Sounds a bit extreme, even to me! I am going to spend some time examining my motives, my actions, and my results. Perhaps I should join a contemplative monastic order—just long enough so I can figure it all out!