While I was meditating today, I heard a particular notification sound from my phone, that made me immediately anticipate a specific message from a specific person.
A few seconds later, as my mind and body was relaxing back from this, I asked myself, ‘And what if this is not the person you are hoping it is?’
I saw my mind instantly prepare the sequence of things I would do in that case (some minutes of internet entertainment on my phone, followed by reading a book the rest of the night). I was immediately trying to fill the imagined void, and I wasn’t too bad at it.
The enterprise of incessantly filling this kind of void has become so commonplace today that it is starting to emerge from private lives into popular culture. Louis C K talked about it:
You need to build an ability to just be yourself and not be doing something. That’s what the phones are taking away, is the ability to just sit there. That’s being a person. Because underneath everything in your life there is that thing, that empty — forever empty. You know what I’m talking about?
And sometimes when things clear away, you’re not watching anything, you’re in your car, and you start going, ‘oh no, here it comes. That I’m alone.’ It’s starts to visit on you.
And I go, ‘oh, I’m getting sad, gotta get the phone and write “hi” to like 50 people’.
I remember a friend talking about this, about the awkwardness of catching the reflection of your unfulfilled self on a dark TV screen in the few seconds between episodes of a binge-watch.
As a generation we look only at the bright side of technology. But as we constantly create better distractions, do we notice that this is the process of making a scarier monster out of the void?
Let’s just play with this as a hypothetical question. What happens, if on a night when the void is knocking, instead of planning a strategy to avoid it, we draw a deep breath and look into it? Instead of constantly fabricating our plan to escape from this fear, what if we tentatively explore what exists in this void that scares us?
I have done this a bit, and the answer is that some familiar monsters do actually live there: impatience (very true for me), sadness (somewhat true for me right now), maybe loneliness for some, anxiety for others. How scary these monsters are can be different for different people, and confronting and working with them are a truly demanding task. But I have also seen that years of practiced avoidance have made their shadows grow longer and scarier than they really are, and have created new monsters that begin to fall apart even with the very first curious investigation.
Most influences in our lives today are incessantly prescribing us cheap, low-hanging, shiny, shallow and always accessible distractions from the monsters under our bed. But this is what the monsters feast on, too. How will life unfold if we could start taking the first difficult steps in the opposite direction, such as living a more physically healthy live, cultivating tenacity and becoming more tolerant and friendly with boredom, discomfort and fear?
I hope that like the past year or two of my life, the rest will be a story of continuing to succeed and fail, but never stopping to try.