A video titled, “Look Up”, has been circulating the interwebs the last few days. A teacher from my school passed it along to a few of us to check out. To put simply, it is a powerful spoken word poem reminding us about the addictive, distracting nature of the technology that consumes our lives – in particular, our phones. I’m thankful my friend shared it with us, especially since our school is providing tablets for the 5th-10th grade students next year.
Whenever I feel myself “looking down” too often, controlled by the bright lights and the red dots smiling at me, I take a walk. I leave my phone on my bed or on the side table and wander around my neighborhood with nothing but my keys and the soft blue breeze gently guiding me along. I took one of those walks tonight. I needed to take one of those walks tonight.
As I walked down to the end of my street and turned down the main thoroughfare, the cars whizzed by my quieted gait, and I began to reflect on the past month or two. Where had I been? Where had my thoughts travelled? How had I been living my life? What or who had I been living for?
On my walk, as I felt the trees rustle in the wind and as I tasted the light of a man welding which poured over the fence and onto the street, I was reminded of a recent anxiety to be with people; I was reminded of a recent trepidation in fulfilling simple adult tasks and a recent obsession with House of Cards and Mad Men. They flooded my mind like the brights of the unaware driver as he careened toward me on the dark street. Lately, these anxieties which flowed out of me were being filled and replaced by technological satisfactions. I was frustrated as these realizations sunk in…
But, something struck me as I (psycho?) analyzed my actions. As I examined my simple impulse to rectify my anxieties with the immediacy of technology, I realized the mere “looking down” was not the core problem. Yes, it is a problem, and I don’t want to minimize the impact of the video or rationalize my actions, but I think the video’s focus on technology being the sole problem is overstated and reductionist.
What is the problem then? What is at the root of my (our?) impulsivity to unlock the screen?
Where does my anxiety come from? Why do I do it?
I am afraid of myself – my thoughts.
The external reality of deriving pleasure from the gifts of technology and the manipulation of our image via social media is not the fault of technology. The fault is internal – with ourselves and our own thinking.
I’ve been on many of these walks as a means of emptying my mind and my heart from the subtle distractions of my life. The conscious desire to remove these life impediments clear a space for God to move. Yet, I avoid them as much as possible. I’m always fearful of what I might think, and I’m always fearful of what God might say.
These walks sometimes lead me to question the goodness of God, and I am forced to remind myself of the Psalms, David, and his cries to God; these walks sometimes lead me to guilt and shame over the choices I have made in my life; these walks sometimes lead me to register for Masters classes at one university even though my application for another is complete; these walks sometimes lead me to ramble on online forums such as this.
These walks always, though, lead to the multi-faceted nature of the cross. Sometimes the walks hurt. Sometimes they liberate. But every time, the spirit of God moves.
Thomas Merton would refer to these walks as moments of solitude. For Merton, “deliberate solitude is the conviction that it will help you to love not only God but also other men…The person is constituted by a uniquely subsisting capacity to love.”
Merton goes on to explain why it is important to purposefully enter the darkness of solitude. I think it is especially pertinent to our technological age:
There is actually no more dangers solitude than that of the man who is lost in a crowd, who does not know he is alone and who does not function as a person in a community either. He does not face the risks of true solitude or its responsibilities…he is burdened by the diffuse, the anonymous anxiety, the nameless fears, the petty itching lusts and the all pervading hostilities which fill mass society the way water fills the oceans.
When Merton speaks of this solitude, he isn’t telling you to pick up a bible and deeply study the scripture – even though that is a good thing. He isn’t telling you to go to a play and analyze the redemptive theme which is woven throughout it – even though that is a good thing. He isn’t telling you to read a novel, go to your community group, or listen to Christian music – even though those are all very good things. He tells us to be alone.
Leave the multitudes and go to the desert. Hop on a boat after you feed the masses to get away. Go up to the mountain to escape the madness. Enter into the garden and pray….
Go for a walk.
Leave the phone at home. Leave the music in the car. Engage in the terrifying thoughts of solitude, and revel in the beautiful treasure it uncovers. Let our Lord move in the stillness of a stroll. Do not fear what you might think. Do not fear if you do not think at all. Let the void be filled with the love and grace of Jesus the Christ.
Have you been on your walk lately?