On Saturday, September 3rd, I had planned to conduct a 24-hour experiment in what I call “electronic silence.” So when that morning arrived, I turned off and kept off my cell phone, computer, TV, and radio. I took no calls, checked no e-mails, and stayed off the Internet.
To be honest, I found that it wasn’t all that easy to stick to my plan. I soon discovered that I was feeling a kind of electronic sensory deprivation. My mind kept reminding me of what I could be missing. Who might be trying to call me? Were my e-mails piling up, just sitting there begging to be read? And if there were no e-mails, did that mean nobody out there remembered me?
I don’t think my withdrawal reactions were unusual, given what I hear from people whose computer or TV or cell phone has gone on the blink. Getting the device repaired or buying a new one becomes their number one priority, and they feel disconnected from something very important in their lives until that happens. We have gotten so used to electronic communication and stimulation that its sudden absence just doesn’t feel right.
It is amazing how quickly all that circuitry has gotten tightly integrated into our lives. Just a few years back, we depended much less on electronics and lived, I would say, happier than now. These days, it has become not even fast food and fast e-mail, but rather instant e-mail, instant food. For some, even “instant” love—which makes me wonder, is the art of love being lost in this buzzing new world we have created?
I am also glad to report that some very good things resulted from my experiment. One was that I had more time for myself, other people, and the beautiful world around me. My electronic sensory deprivation was actually a sensory enrichment because it allowed me to take in the world more fully through my senses and be more attentive to others. There were no ringtones, buzzings, clickings, or anonymous voices announcing, “You’ve got mail” to interrupt my time with my family. There was more time to talk with them, walk in the garden, and go to dinner. There were also new minutes available to complete activities that I had neglected. And in the absence of e-mails and phone calls, the sun still rose, the birds still sang.
My friends, I highly recommend that you impose upon your world an occasional electronic silence. It is a great way to do a mental detox from the chaotic sensory input our minds must endure so much of the time. Silence can be invigorating and rewarding. The virtues of silence have been written about since ancient times. Though silence is quiet, it does not equate to quietude. The great Mahatma Gandhi observed a day of silence every Monday. Within those silences, I believe, he found much of his power to change a large part of the world.
Even a few hours of silence on the weekend can be healthy and rejuvenating. We all need time to rest and repair not just our bodies, but also our mental, social, and spiritual aspects. We need to take care of ourselves, to find peace within, before we can help others. Inner peace begins with taking control of our chaotic environment and learning how to nurture our mind and soul through stillness.
Peacefulness of mind has many rewards. It promotes intuition, living from the heart, and even breakthrough. These are benefits that cannot be achieved simply through mental exercise or living constantly in our brains. Turning off the electronics for some considerable time each week can help us find answers we are seeking. Sometimes those answers will appear with no effort when we quiet the cacophony of electronic signals that assault our eardrums and eyes. A substantial period of silence enables us to be more creative and accomplish more with less effort.
If you are not yet convinced to take an occasional 24-hour electronics vacation, then try at least a partial one. A night without TV or the Internet. A limited time for e-mail. No phone calls after five. Discover what the silence opens up to you.
And oh yes, there is one more benefit of taking an electronics vacation. One of the great values of silence is that through it, we are able to begin understanding and approaching “the gap.” The gap is that place of total silence that lies between our thoughts. We cannot approach the gap as long as we are continually bombarded by the messages conveyed by the electronic world around us.
The gap is, in a sense, our personal black hole. A black hole, at its core, is a singularity with infinite mass. Light cannot escape from it. A stationary black hole is believed to be dimensionless—no length, breadth, or height. And yet some scientists believe a black hole may be the origin of the Universe and all of the information that our electronic devices convey to us. Within our personal black hole there are also no dimensions. There is only a void. But this nothingness is profound. To experience this nothingness is to experience the Origin. The key to getting there is meditation. But one precondition is to turn off the gadgets and begin feeling the silence, the emptiness, which the Wisdom of the Tao tells us is ultimately the Source of all.
As the fourth verse says:
“The all spreading Tao is empty, yet inexhaustible.”
In the end, Shanti Shanti Shanti—peace to all, you and me.