“And last are the few whose delight is in meditation and understanding; who yearn not for goods, nor for victory, but for knowledge; who leave both market and battlefield to lose themselves in the quiet clarity of secluded thought; whose will is a light rather than a fire, whose haven is not power but truth: these are the men of wisdom, who stand aside unused by the world.” – Will Durant
In his 1974 book ‘Mind and Cosmos’ the author Jacob Needleman writes at some length about the profound importance of stillness in respect of connection with spirit, and indeed making any spiritual progress. ‘Spiritual progress’ may sound like some kind of nebulously wishy-washy hippy guff, but perhaps inconveniently this not so, not even a little bit. You’ve seen the state of the world, right? Spiritual progress is what would heal all that. The last thing it is is wishy-washy, or sanctimonious, or a means of control of the populace, or some kind of airy-fairy nonsense with no grounding in truth. None of these popular views of the spiritual are ultimately valid. The fact that there is no easy way to talk about such matters without sounding somehow insipid or sentimental is itself a clue that something is not right. But ‘spiritual’ progress is indeed so very important, because ultimately connection with spirit means losing that problem in us that makes us objectify other people, that makes us so explosively fragile and insecure while expecting others to cater to our needs. That means no more egoic defensiveness, no more us-and-them, no more regarding other people as a threat simply because of who they are, no more double standards when it comes to good, or bad, behaviour. No more tribalism, war, sexual violence, alienation, rampant fear, hatred, panic, no more treating the natural world as resource to be bought and sold as we use it up and trash it. Connection with spirit means being fully human, truly understanding what this is all about, understanding and living oneness in the world. Yet even using the word ‘oneness’ smells a bit off. How has it come to this?
Our inherent inner stillness is under the most severe attack in the history of humanity. The Powers That Be (who probably aren’t even conscious of themselves as such – no conspiracy stuff needed here) want to keep everybody in a state of agitation precisely to break that connection, and in order to keep everybody buying stuff to temporarily make the pain go away. It’s what keeps the Machine going. With the advent of television, then the internet, then smart phones, our attention has been progressively aggressively eroded. Naturally there is argument about the direct effect of internet use on attentivity, with some researchers saying it’s bad, others good, but in any event it’s perhaps better viewed as a widespread change in how we behave during our waking hours, and during how many of our waking hours.
There have always been problems with human attentivity, but we have a new, turbo-charged way of ensuring that our minds stay aggressively turbulent, and those ways are deliberately designed to be addictive and keep us coming back for more. The best psychologists in the world are hired by social media companies like Facebook to conduct the best research on how to do this, any qualms of conscience they may have about doing this are numbed for a while by huge salaries, then when their consciences kick in, they bale and start warning everybody else about how toxic their inventions are.
Television – as 5 second jump cuts weren’t exciting enough, Australian TV networks shortened them to 2 seconds. This was a great ‘success’ and became the norm for children’s TV and light entertainment programmes throughout the world. You might also want to try watching, say, Saturday night light entertainment TV out of the corner of your eye, while mindfully looking somewhere neutral, such as a wall or a carpet. That detachment might bring home to you at least a flavour of how insanely hyperactive jump cut TV actually is. It’s also often extremely noisy, featuring a relentlessly agitated cacophony of “enhanced” explosive sound, hyped audience reaction, dazzling fx, on and on and on, all the way through. Try listening to the sound with detached mindfulness, and see what it presents as then.
Of course most of us humans throughout history have always had some kind of problem with attentivity, have gone for shallow noisy distraction, have sought out overstimulation. And as for us in the west, Blaise Pascal’s quote ‘All humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone’ comes from his Pensées, written in the 17th century. But this should not be used as a tactic to try to deny that what’s happening these days is unusual, and qualitatively new. A common tactic of shiny-eyed scientistic sorts is to try to say ‘we’ve always had this, here have always been moral panics about it, lighten up’, but doing so firstly ignores that maybe this problem has always been serious even in antiquity – why should the fact it’s always been around make it OK exactly? – and secondly plays a trick with confusing qualitative and quantitative effects. Human life may never have been that quiet, but they didn’t have the fiendish ways of scorching minds and destroying attentivity then that we are immersed in now. Things are qualitatively different these days. Always remember that if you add many ‘small’s together you get ‘big’.
The internet – there is a growing body of evidence that attentivity is being eroded by surfing the net. With ‘jackpot’ novelty dopamine triggers, ‘likes’ validation addiction, and the general rush for everything to happen at once, to be available immediately, we’re all being trained in becoming ever more what used to be called ADD but which has now been somewhat clumsily rebranded as ADHD-PI , complete with associated rage reactions and corroded self esteem. Claims that some of the neurological changes that are occurring with excessive internet use are actually good need to be put in the context of how shitty and awful the social aspects of online interaction so often are. Faster reaction times are a neutral thing – faster reaction times in terms of being part of an online pile-on aimed at a solitary individual who’s said something attackable are not neutral at all. Scientism so often confuses the neutral with the good. Indeed it would do, because that’s what scientism ultimately is – saying that science per se is good instead of neutral.
Smartphones – instead of talking to each other, everybody is now glued to these as much as they can get away with, and sometimes beyond. Portable mind torment training. People have died due to being enrapt by their gadgets, their lives ended by misplaced attention. Try going to, say, nightclasses, or a meetup. Twenty years ago if there was a break in a class, or if a group met to talk about something, that was where people got to know each other. Now of course during those breaks there’s that constant aggressive tug trying to pull everybody’s eyeballs to their smartphone screens. So a lot of people whip out their phones and get absorbed in those instead – people walk outside to get a better signal, or maybe even to be polite, or perhaps because they don’t want people hearing what they’re saying, and suddenly they’re no longer part of the meatspace group – there’s a break where there could’ve been person-to-person human socialising. Which brings us to…
Real world meetups – anybody who has tried organising, say, a birthday party, or indeed any kind of social event, since the advent of non-smart mobile phones knows what it’s like start getting that dripping accumulation of last minute cancellation texts, so often involving some kind of ‘thinking I might be getting a cold’ wording. The texts gradually aggregate into a mosaic of insincerity as they build up on the organiser’s phone, but this doesn’t matter to the droppers out, because the disconnect means it’s so easy to pretend that a short few seconds of feeling vaguely guilty when you drop out at the last minute because in reality you just can’t be bothered is somehow a sufficient ‘payment’. Naturally the double standards of the ego are applied when it’s the turn of the droppers-out to organise their birthday party or whatever – in that case it’s a cause to feel righteously aggrieved, because it’s different, because this time it’s them. And so on it goes. The insight that these sorts of double standards are so often applied is peculiarly rare… for some reason.
And it’s always a text, never a phonecall. Interacting with people in real time means leaving the Womblike Personal Comfort Zone, and the WPCZ is ever more attractive, ever more magnetic… You can go back there any time you want to dose yourself up quickly and easily with vapid opioid stimulation and do just what your little self might happen to want right then without having to meet or even just talk on the phone to bothersome biological entities who might be able to read your tone of voice, or pick up your general vibe some other way, and being biological entities realise in less than 1 second that you’re clearly lying – you know you aren’t ‘might be getting a cold’, you’re just plain lazy, actually uninterested in celebrating something with somebody who’s supposed to be a ‘friend’.
And one of the good things about the internet, the ability to find like-minded people, is so often dragged into this dynamic. If you ever manage to successfully meet up with online people, they’re usually so different in so many ways to their online persona IRL. The worst aspect of internet culture here is found on dating sites, touted as the way to meet the person of your dreams, but in reality a powerful way to promote a checklist mentality that shuts down the deeper innate wisdom we all have in terms of person-to-person contact, a wisdom that’s been with us for countless aeons and which is so utterly different to online trash interaction.
And here you are, reading this on the internet. How aware are you of the way you act, the way you feel, when you’re on the net? It’s hard to do (even though it shouldn’t be) but at least just take a mental step back, repeatedly, and see how driven you are, how impatient, how angry in your impatience, how you’re always seeking a novelty hit and instant results, your rage at a slow loading page that you angrily close in a blaze of hot fury napalm because it still hadn’t finished loading after a whole 3 seconds – seconds that felt like a violation of your entire life in their sheer arrogant slowness.
This is the irony – the “power of now” when your attention span is attenuated is no power at all. This is the mystery – by training your attention to remain present, the infitesimal present moment opens up into infinity, for the simple yet strangely secret reason that there is no such thing as a minuscule moment – it’s flow all the way down, up, and sideways. Panta rhei. The ADD version of being in the moment isn’t being there at all – it’s a profound absence despite, or perhaps because of being stimulation-addled.
The paradox is that you need to train your attention to be fully present. But you need that training more than at any point in the history of mankind, and you need it urgently. You need it as it is – you don’t need to be thinking about it, downloading apps to help with it, talking about it, reading about it. You actually need PRESENCE as it is.
It’s quite common for spiritual schemas to feature an involution followed by an evolution, an archetypal example of this being spirit’s descent into matter before then rising back up again. There is an ever deeper descent into the darkness of matter, before then rising back into the light again. But what we’re seeing now is everything being scrambled – there is no descent as such, just a disconnection from spirit – and the body – by means of getting our minds totally jumbled and agitated, randomly shocked by encountering horror, tweaked and teased by click farmers, repeatedly zapped by deliberately designed overstimulation techniques, with all the negative bodily effects that this agitation causes – tension, migraine, muscle sprain and strain, loss of connection with the outer world, depression, anxiety, loss of connection with our inner ground.
If you have a regular mindfulness practice, you may well notice that you buy less stuff, and you become a lot more aware of the systematic, society-wide destruction our natural ability to be attentive. You become generally more grounded, more emotionally stable, empathic, more knowing, more insightful. You also become aware of pervasive fear-mongering and start wondering why it’s so prevalent, and whose interests it serves. The politics of meditation.
Just to make one thing clear. There’s a vast maelstrom of drivel out constantly circling on the internet about 5G, anti-vaxx, ‘Soros’ style shy antisemitism (‘it’s just anti-Zionism!’ – yeah, right), ‘wake up sheeple’ parapolitical bullshit often mixed in with this ‘noticing the fear-mongering’ by an immense ramshackle army of self-appointed ‘people in the know’ (lol) who perhaps aren’t as clever or insightful as they think they are. And where do these people egg each other on, work together to build and reinforce their fake, toxic worldviews? Right here, on the internet. It’s become a running joke, the way these buffoons demand that you watch an hour(s)-long video by a fantasist with a Masters in Facticity from the Youtubiversity of Drunning-Kruger.
Sometimes, being irritated at being asked to watch a Youtube video is justified. Discernment is the key.
But nonetheless, deliberately induced ADD is everywhere, and it’s getting stronger, and it’s still spreading ever further into our subjective time, where our lives are. You really do need to do something about this, as a matter of paradoxical urgency. So log out more often, use discernment, and start trying to find a way back to being fully present, back in the world of human social interaction, before it’s too late. You will encounter your own laziness, and you will have to find a way through it. As you have been trained to expect instant perfect results, to be aggressively impatient, you will have to persist and learn self-compassion as you do this, but you must do it. It may help here to treat learning patience actually an inherent aspect of the whole process rather than a goal or a separate add-on. Do it out of love for yourself and keep a gentle self-discipline. It’s best to avoid any kind of goal-directed approach, as that’ll pull your escape from the Machine into just another ‘thing’, another object to keep as a personal possession, and the escape is far beyond anything like that.
If you’re fighting impatience, consider how many hours in the day you spend doing other things compared to the amount of time you spend in life time, i.e. doing things like meditating, or just slowing down and being present, maybe looking out the window with a cup of tea, pondering everything/nothing. Again, keep away from any goal-directed ideation here – you are planning an escape, and the crucial thing is to make your way along the path of escape, bit by bit.
Your true time, your life time is being stolen. This substitution of fake, driven, clock time has all sorts of unintended consequences too, one being the huge dentristy crisis (here in the UK this is). Which may seem like a surprising reference here, but consider this. We have teeth, and they are used to eat, and they pick up food which gets stuck in crevices, and food with sugar that promotes bacteria that in turn promote decay. Teeth may be coated with enamel, but they are alive, they have nerves inside them. They can bite, yet they can become fragile. This is the way teeth are. This comes first. Yet somewhat incredibly, so many people actually can’t spend TWO MINUTES twice a day ensuring their teeth are properly cleaned. The average amount of time spent brushing teeth is apparently around three-quarters of a minute. So people are in pain, they have teeth pulled, or pull them themselves because of the current desperate shortage of dentists , they have mouths full of broken, painful, ugly, rotten teeth – but they pay that price (including often a heavy financial price) because they can’t brush their teeth for 120 seconds x 2 per diem, as part of a day where they’re up and about for 16 hours, which is 57,600 seconds, because the rock-hard drivenness and impatience that has them in its vice-like grip makes spending that time – 0.42% of the waking day – on avoiding a world of pain and cost and inconvenience further down the line, simply unthinkable, absolutely not to be ever faced up to honestly. And that madness is everywhere else too – it’s just the whole dental thing that really shows it vividly.
Teeth, like everything in the objective world, have their own solidity which we need to engage with on its own terms, without leaving bits out, in order to live fully. But the driven egoic mind creates its own false timetables, disconnected with the outside world, where activities somehow ‘ought’ to take a certain amount of time even though that imaginary time bears little or no relation to truth. Obviously it’s not just about brushing your teeth, it’s about the entirety of your life in the world, as you live in and through every waking day.
And because the mind has been trained to be driven and angry and scrambled and in so doing create its own (somewhat infantile) ‘ought to’ mentality of time, and the mind gets energised in this bad way over a period of years, it gains its own pathological momentum, and that momentum needs to be dealt with somehow in order to get rid of it. Once again, patience and firm self-compassion will be needed to learn, with repetition over time, more grounded behaviours.
Sitting to meditate can light the touchpaper. The touchpaper may ‘go out’, i.e. you may find you can’t keep a practice going for more than a day or two, but if you keep with it, gently but firmly, eventually the flame takes, and if you keep it alight it will go through the touchpaper and reach the kindling. There may be more problems with the flame going out, but keep going and eventually the kindling will itself kindle. It will then require a little gentle nurturing, and will then deepen…
But the vortex of driven vacuity is getting itself ever more deeply installed in your minds by way of an unpredictable novelty that’s usually positive (amusing/cute stuff) but which could at any moment turn out to be utterly horrific (animal abuse, genocide, sexual violence, pictures of all the horror of the world suddenly appearing in your feed (and note the aptness of that word – you’re feeding your conscious and subconscious mind with this junk), and the vortex itself is ever intensified by way of anger stimulation, tweaking you in a way that’ll leave you feeling shit for a good long while afterwards, addicting you so you return like a dog to its vomit. Instead of living, being present to what is right there now all around you and thus gaining ever deepening understanding of life, vast quantities of people, including people who haven’t yet reached adulthood, are being pulled into the Machine and its idiotic, cacophonous dramas that evaporate so quickly on the surface yet each of which leaves a mark that’s semi-permanent, until the marks start to coalesce into a weeping sore, an infected burning boil on the soul. It’s not just in our supposedly ‘spare’ time that this is happening either – at work the vortex machine demands ever faster, ever more intense rushing through tasks to the point of burnout. When ‘vacation’ (an interesting word in this context of all-pervasive emptiness) comes along, because the mind/body retains impressions and stresses and strains, the negative mental and physical effects continue on and on for at least a week or two of your supposedly destressing time. Unless your employer can still contact you, in which case you will be re-stimulated again and again until the holiday’s over. Whereupon it’s time to go back to the Machine, the Machine which is eating you and to which you have allied a key aspect of your identity as a human. (‘What do you do?’ ‘Oh I’m a job description.’)
We know the internet isn’t all bad – so what. Just dispassionately take a step back and look at how bad the bad stuff is – how all-pervading, how multiply unpleasant in so many different ways, how vacuously dramatic it is by design. Note how its badness is so intensely emotionally powered, so intimately entwined with poisonous worldviews, poisonous arguing, poisonous stupidity, poisonous politics, poisonous philosophies. Note how awful you feel, and how long it takes to wear off, after just a little interaction on so-called ‘social media’.
You’re in serious trouble, alright. And here’s a Youtube video…