Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Unplugged and loving it

[Found in notebook, written April 20, 2011]

In his influential book Thou Shall Prosper: Ten Commandments for Making Money (I describe it as influential because it has influenced me so deeply), Rabbi Daniel Lapin encourages his readers to make goals and delve into their life’s purposes but not before spending two or three days avoiding all electronic screens. Those brightly colored images have a mesmerizing effect, much like a deer confronted by headlights, Lapin said. Better to clear the mind before focusing on weighty matters.

As I pen these words (literally, pen to paper), I am one-third of my way through my first day of avoiding screens. The impact is uncanny. The urge to flip on the computer or the television is occasionally overwhelming, like the urge to take a drink must be to an alcoholic.

But the difference in productivity is astonishing. Without the ability to switch gears and multitask, I’ve filled six pages of a composition book in little more than an hour, preserving in a flurry thoughts that had been bouncing around unfinished in my mind for days.

As I’ve been writing, no email popping into my mailbox has diverted my attention. The urge to Google the information I need to insert into my essays has gone unfulfilled and, with it, the impulse to wander to other familiar Internet haunts to see if anything has changed since my last visit.

Lapin is an orthodox Jew who takes the Sabbath seriously and literally. His family abstains from work from sunset Friday through Saturday for a time of worship and introspection.

In this plugged-in and hectic era, a regular sabbatical makes a great deal of sense. Even a few hours into this unplugged exercise, I find myself tapping into reservoirs that have been neglected – not just stopping to smell the roses (difficult anyway after a spring snowstorm) but assessing where I am, what I’m doing and why. Too often the quotidian (i.e., the everyday routine) drags us along and we hardly have time to think – and making an appointment with ourselves to take the time to think is essential, lest we collide with life the way a deer collides with an oncoming car.

And so I put pen to paper, I play with the dog, I prepare a meal, I read books, I perform chores that have been neglected – in short, I do everything except fire up the computer or television. I will cheat for a time tonight when Red and I meet our weekly appointment with American Idol. That will be a setback of sorts, but the achievement of spending an unplugged day or two has already begun to bear fruit.

What will I learn from this exercise? We shall see.

But it has given me time to contemplate questions that deserve answers. What will you do with the time that’s left? Why are you here? What is the best use of your gifts? How can you make the world a better place? How can you make your life a better life? What makes you happy? What makes you free? What gives you life?

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