Growing up in the real world
When I was a kid in the early 70’s, I bought my first calculator for elementary school. It was a pricey gadget, around $35.00. Making a phone call was a lot cheaper at 10 cents per call. Other than using a landline, there were two other ways we used technology to communicate. One way was turning on a transistor radio, but trying to find the latest Beatles’ tune was like dialing in sound wavs from Mars.
Television wasn’t much more advanced than radios. There were just a few channels worth watching, and these came in clearer if you attached tin foil to the rabbit ear antennas. Minutes before midnight, you could rise and sing the national anthem the stations played, just before each station signed off, and your TV screen was filled by the atomized battle between the black and white dots.
I happened to be living on Oahu at this time, and my universe was my island. Since technology was so limiting, about as far as my mind could travel were the white sandy beaches wrapping its outer shoreline. I became intimate with its aromas, its soft trade winds, the music of waves crashing on beaches, the rich diversity in culture.
If the universe was my island, my neighborhood was my world. I knew every street and sugarcane road, the backtrails to the elementary school, and even where to steal avocadoes and find macadamia nuts from the neighbor’s yards.
Avocado trees were everywhere. When in season, their tree branches hung low under the weight of avos the size of softballs. So, I don’t think the neighbor’s minded the local boys stealing a few of them. Most were going to fall to the ground and rot anyway. Macadamia nut trees where much harder to find. As it so happens one of my next-door neighbors had a tree that grew at the edge of their property. The tree belonged to the Kamaka family, who have been building the finest ukuleles in world since 1916 – and still do.
My parents meant everything to me back then. Like the volcanic rocks that anchor the Hawaiian islands in the pacific ocean, they helped me establish a firm foundation in life. (But don’t you think our friends have a greater impact in our lives during our formative years?) I knew everything about my childhood buddies, and they about me. And my girlfriends – which is to say my friends who happened to be girls – well, even at this “coming of age” period in my life held mysteries my preteen mind just couldn’t fathom.
Living in virtual reality
The best thing about growing up in such an intimate island environment was that it was free from technology; specifically, the virtual reality which now demands so much of our daily lives. Just a few decades ago this virtual reality did not exist. Sure, you could make a phone call, and by using your imagination conceptualize what was happening in the life of the other person tethered to the phone at the end, but this is nothing like what we have to contend with today. The future has arrived. For as soon as we reach for our phones, we become participants in this virtual reality, which in every practical sense operates much like a parallel universe within our own reality.
In this virtual reality we are bombarded with data that amounts to essentially, nothing but the electronic manipulation of one’s and zeros. Nothing in this world is real until we choose to believe it is real. This includes the friendships we establish, which we sometimes build upon without even knowing what our new friends even look or sound like.
One thing’s certain: virtual reality is here to stay. We will be dealing with its ills and enjoying its benefits until a giant meteorite hits planet earth and renders humanity extinct. Opting out of this virtual world is not even an option anymore. Future generations will be spending more and more time living within this virtual world. Indeed, many already spend every waking moment there.
What’s important, is that we recognize both realities now exist as parallel universes of thought within our minds. We all have real lives that we wake up to each day in which we can, if we so choose, shut off all our electronic devices and have nothing to do with the virtual world. Or we can roll out of bed and grab our phones, and immediately detach ourselves from reality and all of the wonderful things happening in our real lives. There is a third option, a more practical option, which is to learn how to balance living within both worlds.
This is where meditation can help
There are many practical ways to utilize meditation to engage with life in fulfilling ways. Meditation can be used to accomplish something as simple as providing relief from stress, or in the context we’ve been discussing help a person enjoy living life grounded in reality.
It may be helpful for some to know that a one doesn’t have to spend decades sitting on a cushion to reap what I consider one of the most beneficial aspects of meditation: which is the power it has to ground a person’s mind in reality. Because the virtual world, for all its benefits, does little to help us enjoy life living in our own neck of the woods; engaged in the lives of those whom we love and care about, or in positively contributing to our communities.
I personally like to begin each day meditating before I even look at my phone or fire up my computer. My goal with morning meditation is to ground my thoughts to the realities of my life, before I venture into speculative imaginings of what might be transpiring in the virtual world.
I begin by focusing on my breathing. This has the effect of grounding me to my body and environment, as well as banishing all other speculative musings. I then find it helpful to focus on what my five senses are experiencing. This might be the tactile sensation of my weight seated on a cushion, determining the temperature in the room, becoming aware of the sounds reaching my ears, or the aroma emanating from the candles I have lit. Taking just a few minutes engaged in what my senses are enjoying further contributes to grounding me to the realities of my world. At this point, I spend additional time thinking of family members or friends. I may reminisce about the times we’ve spent together, or simply wish them well with positive accolades.
Whether I devote five minutes going through this thought routine or an hour is not what matters. What’s important for me, (and perhaps for you if you are willing to give these suggestions a try), is to become grounded in reality and what is happening in life in real time