Meditation in Action

Are We Addicted to Speed?

Susan Piver on maintaining focus in the instantaneous electric age we live in. 

Photo © iStockPhoto.com/akindo

Is this you?

  1. You check email obsessively throughout the day with a mix of hope and dread.
  2. You panic when you’re stuck waiting and don’t have your phone, a book, music, something.
  3. The idea of driving to work in silence makes you feel queasy.
  4. When you awaken to 30 new emails rather than the requisite 50, you struggle with feelings of depression and failure.
  5. Your 5th meeting of the day cancels at the last minute and your first thought is, “what can I fill this space with?”
  6. Unscheduled time is a source of stress rather than pleasure.
  7. You are convinced that the idea of taking time off is actually impossible.
  8. Accomplishing tasks doesn’t fill you with satisfaction, rather you feel more stressed about what remains undone.
  9. You have a nagging sense that something, somewhere is going horribly wrong and it is your fault.
  10. When you are about to check email or voicemail, you experience a moment of dread.

Well, it’s me. I am in constant battle with speed and anxiety—sure, the sheer velocity of modern life is not easy, but it is the speed of my own mind that is so devastating. It races from thought to fear to idea to doubt to possibility to judgment, all the while trying to absorb endless input from all the screens I’m exposed to: computer, TV, smartphone, iPod, Sonos, and on and on. I’m NOT good at measuring it all into consumable bits.

To keep up with it all (even if only to block it out) takes an extraordinary amount of mental energy, which, if not recouped, creates a profound drain. Speed, much as I try to tell myself that I’ll slow down “tomorrow,” only begets more speed and it’s evil twin, anxiety.

Many people I know feel that they have ADD and that this is the reason they can’t stop themselves from pirouetting from email message to errand to writing assignment to nap to movie to email to phone call to email to, well, exhaustion. Honestly, I don’t think ADD is the culprit to blame for an inability to sustain attention on one task at a time. I’m labeling it ISID instead: Input Surfeit Insanity Disorder.

WE ARE BOMBARDED BY INFORMATION AND TASKS. NO ONE CAN BE EXPECTED TO MANAGE IT—without drugs and/or promises of a future without so many inputs. The problem, and this is a big one, is that rather than trying to establish a balance of input and rest from input, we become addicted to the input. Why? I don’t know. We just do. See above list.

So, what to do? The number of inputs in the environment are not going to decrease, we can be sure of that. There is nowhere to hide and in fact the effort to protect yourself from inputs is additionally exhausting. Citing sensitivity and insisting that the world back away from you is simply impractical and will not get you very far. I’m not saying you shouldn’t be very careful about the entertainments and stimuli you are exposed to, but we each need to take responsibility for the peace and wholeness and state of our own minds. It is not the internet’s fault that I am overwhelmed.

HOW TO FIND TRANQUILITY: A PRACTICE

Instead of adding “cultivate peace and quiet” to your to-do list, you could take time everyday to relax your mind and reconnect with spaciousness and stillness–without agenda. (This is the key.) The meditation called “The Practice of Tranquility” is exactly this. When you practice  it on a regular basis, your mind is refreshed and when it is refreshed, it is strong, creative, and flexible. Here is instruction and I suggest you try it everyday for, say, a week. No more. Don’t be all “I’m going to do this forever.” At the end of the week, reassess. Just check it out with an open mind and then see how you feel.

If you do try it, let me know how it goes!! Ups, downs, the whole nine yards. And remember: the opposite of speed is not necessarily peace. It is joy.

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Susan Piver is the New York Times bestselling author of The Hard Questions,  the award-winning How Not to Be Afraid of Your Own Life, and The Wisdom of a Broken Heart. Learn more about her and her work at susanpiver.com