I was recently turned on to Louis CK’s epistle on cell phones during an appearance with Conan O’Brian.
Louis CK is very funny and he captures the sense of infomania that afflicts so many of us. We turn to our devices to avert the raw feelings of life.
His insights are very consistent with the Buddha’s teachings on aversion, one of the three fires.
I’m getting sad; I’ve got to get the phone and write “hi” to fifty people … I started reaching for the phone and then I said, “don’t, just be sad. Just let the sadness, stand in the way of it and let it hit you like a truck and I let it come and I started to feel OMG and I pulled over and I just cried like a bitch, and I cried so much and it was beautiful, it was this beautiful, sadness is poetic, you’re lucky to live sad moments and then I had happy feelings because when you let yourself feel sad your body has antibodies, it has happiness that comes, rushing in to meet the sadness.
There are two important insights touched on here. One is that we have lost our solitude through the ubiquity of the phone. We have lost that introspective, reflective, and thoughtful space that comes with an ability to just sit with our experience without distracting them away. The second is that we are allergic to the uncomfortable, painful, and darker aspects of our lives. We “medicate” feelings away by distracting ourselves with superficial contact and information on the phone.
This gives us a false sense of protection, as if death couldn’t find us if we are texting with someone (and as he points out the irony, death may be closer if you are texting while driving). His advice resonates with the timeless advice of the 17th century philosopher Pascal, who said, “All the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their chamber.”
If this sentiment was true 400 years ago, it is true with a vengeance today. The opportunities for distraction today are unprecedented. Can we put them aside and just be for a moment?
This self-medicating is motivated by aversion. We are pushing away something that we don’t want. Mindfulness can help us to hold a space for all the feelings of our life and experience them fully. This is what Louis CK stumbled upon in his car.
We are ill-equipped for just sitting in an introverted way–being quiet without distractions. My book, The Awakened Introvert is full of tools, contemplations, and exercises that can help you to build on this capacity to just be with yourself.