2016-06-30
Excerpted from "City Dharma: Keeping Your Cool in the Chaos" by Arthur Jeon. Reprinted with permission of Harmony Books.

The world is sacred.
It can't be improved.
If you tamper with it, you'll ruin it.
If you treat it like an object, you lose it.
--The Tao
In the media, the virtues of "doing" are extolled non-stop and the simple pleasures of being, with nothing added or subtracted, are completely ignored. Eventually life itself gets distorted, if not by the content of the media, but, as Marshall McCluhan intimated in his famous quote "the medium is the message," by the sheer volume and stimulation of its delivery system. This stimulation can lead to numbness, anxiety, and a restlessness that is never sated, no matter how much stimulus is absorbed.

It can also lead to the worship of false idols, from film stars to whomever is the latest fad. We watch enviously as other people lead a big life and are constantly told that we are free to do the same. We can buy anything we want to buy. Go anywhere we want to go. Be anything we want to be.

But how free are we when according to the A.C. Nielsen Company the average American watches 3 hours and 46 minutes of TV each day (more than 52 days of nonstop TV-watching per year). By age 65 the average American will have spent nearly 9 years glued to the tube. Nine years of passive entraining as one's precious life drips by.

Almost all television programming exists only to sell you something. Nine years spent learning to consume. Like it or not, this is a massive dose of conditioning being mainlined directly into your mind. To absorb it in a state of passivity breeds more passivity. And although it may seem to relieve loneliness, think of the last time you watched a lot of television. Did you feel more or less connected to life at the end of it? Did you feel more or less lonely and disconnected? And when you shut it off, were you recharged or drained? Did the silence replacing the television feel sweet or did you want more television?

This is how elephants are trained. They start out with a chain staked to the ground and the baby elephants are tied to the chain, walking around the stake. As they get older, the elephants are easily able to break free of the chain by simply walking away. Yet they don't. Their minds have been conditioned that they can't break the chains and so they don't even try.

In much the same way the media conditions us, especially the tremendously potent medium of television. It's important to see through this conditioning that is telling us how to live, what our values are, what our politics should be. And to identify the ways in which we are being conditioned. Most people aren't aware of the extent of media dominance in our culture, but the world is saturated with messages selling something. According the Center for Media Literacy, Americans are exposed to over 3,000 ads a day through different forms of media, including 60 channels of TV, movies showing at the local theatre or on video, airwaves full of radio talk and music, newspapers, magazines, and books. We are like robots programmed to consume from early childhood, told what we need to be happy. America, with 6 percent of the world's population, owns 59 percent of the world's wealth, and yet we still don't feel that we have enough.

The truth is, we need nothing beyond the simplicity of the moment. But commercials create an itch that can never be gotten rid of; the more you scratch, the more you want.

Even the internet, touted as a source of connection and information, can be used as away to hide out, a way in which people can interact with a simulation of reality rather than the reality itself. There has been a huge spike in the amount of time teens are spending on the internet (an average of 9.3 hours a week) adding another form of communication that doesn't involve direct contact with the outside world, another way in which we can avoid talking to each other face-to-face.

At least the elephants know that they are chained-we don't even know the chain exists. We think we are so free. Powerful. Ruler's of the world.

Again: how free are we?

To understand how powerful the conditioning is one only need to know that 81% of ten year-old girls is afraid of being fat. Seventy percent say they would rather lose a parent or suffer a nuclear war than be overweight! There is a cause and effect at play here. The average height and weight of women in the United States is 5'4" and 140 pounds. The average media representation of woman is 5'11" and 110 pounds, thinner than 98 % of all women.

This conditioning is as ubiquitous as the air we breathe, but there is a constant opportunity to watch it, to see through the fear it perpetuates and to break free of its tyranny. But first, like in the case of the elephants, we must understand what is possible. And this takes a fluidity and responsiveness that releases the conditioning before it gets locked in. This can only happen moment-by-moment.

It only becomes possible by waking up from the dream!!

At a barbeque a two-year-old girl fell into a swimming pool. Everybody was horrified as the girl struggled, not knowing how to swim. The mother jumped in and grabbed the girl, rescuing her before disaster struck. She pulled the toddler out of the water as everybody rushed forward with great concern. But before her daughter even had a chance to start crying or any of the people could open their mouths, the mother laughed and jumped back in the pool, still holding her daughter.

She turned the moment into a game and the daughter, instead of crying, squealed with delight. Instead of being conditioned to fear the pool and fear the water, the fear of the moment was dissolved into play. This was brilliant and intuitive and happened without thinking. It was a cutting of the conditioning at its inception.

In the same way, we must act moment to moment to observe what habituates us now. Releasing our conditioning to come into our unencumbered self can only work as long as we are aware of the entraining happening every day.

Because our conditioning by the media is as omniscient as the air that we breathe and because we don't see it, we must be as vigilant as this mother was about allowing any conditioning to be set. We must observe the possibility of conditioning and deconstruct it before it gets absorbed. This can be as simple as hooting at the television and making fun of the message. Humor is a fantastic way to pop the trance.

I nearly went mad in my first silent retreats without books, music, radio, and television to distract me. The thundering constancy of my own story pulsed in my head like a dancer who still moves after the plug has been pulled on the music. What do you mean just sit around and do nothing? I felt like I was wasting time.

This was such a clear example of the way I was using a steady drip of stimulation to distract me from myself and once that stimulation was turned off, my head clanged with restless thoughts. But it exposed the fact that diversion, like drugs, only works temporarily. Once my nervous system was slowed down, the ordinary miracles of everyday life were fully revealed, as resplendent and simple as a bird flying across an open sky.

By the end of the retreat I was lying so still in the driveway that a lizard crawled up on my arm and basked with me in the sun. I had merged with all.

But the first step was to unplug.


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