Stop and Smell the Roses: Using Technology or Being Used by It
We have heard the expression to “stop and smell the roses”. This is an old expression, perhaps from before the industrial age, yet it is even more important today, because we may ask, "What roses?". The pace and pressures of the modern, lighting fast world make us dependent on electronic devises that obscure our connection with Nature and the Source of Nature, God or Shri Krishna. Our attention is channeled into man-made arenas which have little relevance to life’s significant existential questions. In many cases we live primarily in a virtual world where virtual things are what we think are important. Of course it depends on us if we can use the things of the world for some higher purpose or are used by them. What determines this is our orientation toward life, the reason for our existence and what we give our attention to.
I read an article in a magazine retelling a visit to a local park where the author and other parents were all absorbed in their smart phones, checking email and so on while their kids played. He realized everyone was very disconnected from the beauty of the day and the activities of their children. In a similar way that televisions silently impel one to watch them, hand held phones or Blackberries give us the message that we must absorb ourselves in their content—otherwise our life is unimportant (and we won’t get our monies worth!). Through the silent pressure of these devices, we often can’t even sit peacefully and just “be”.
The above is an example of the conditioning of the modern world to not be satisfied doing one thing—we have to be multitasking or we feel we must since we are so busy. Our life is like a movie where some of us are conditioned to always want some appropriate mood music in the background, and we desire to move from one exciting scene to another. This mood creates dissatisfaction in the so-called ordinary aspects of our life, and the tendency is to want more and more stimulation. Thus we observe in many people the white ear phones giving them their favorite music. They are in their own world, sometimes oblivious to what is going on around them. It can be difficult for people to wait in line, or shop without some additional stimulus.
It’s both amusing and sad for me to walk down a busy downtown in any major city in the U.S. and see most of the people talking on their cell phone. I sometimes joke that soon babies will be born with a small hand coming out of their shoulders in order to help them as adults manage their cell phone. What is “cool” often rules people’s lives, and it isn’t cool to be just walking down the street. It used to be cigarettes and the young would smoke to show their coolness. Now it is cell phones, or really the “smart phone” with the most new features. It’s a fascinating study of the effect of technology on our habits and the direction of our life.
Although Prabhupada lived before personal computers and cell phones, he did diagnosis the problem with undue emphasis on technology without remembering our connection to God and his energy in the form of the world. “Human prosperity flourishes by natural gifts and not by gigantic industrial enterprises. The gigantic industrial enterprises are products of a godless civilization, and they cause the destruction of the noble aims of human life. The more we go on increasing such troublesome industries to squeeze out the vital energy of the human being, the more there will be unrest and dissatisfaction of the people in general, although a few only can live lavishly by exploitation. The natural gifts such as grains and vegetables, fruits, rivers, the hills of jewels and minerals, and the seas full of pearls are supplied by the order of the Supreme, and as He desires, material nature produces them in abundance or restricts them at times.” [Prabhupada’s pp to 1.8.40 in Queen Kunti’s prayers]
And there are many such purports about the downside of modern Godless living as it was a frequent theme like this one also in the SB: “We have to see things by their resultant action. The resultant action of human civilization in the age of Kali is dissatisfaction, so everyone is anxious to get peace of mind.”
We can conclude that modernity is a strange time where the technology which is supposed to make our life better and more convenient actually takes away many of what were previously simple pleasures in life, and as a result we loose peace of mind. Such activities like cooking, cleaning, walking, having face to face conversations and being in Nature are in some houses lost activities or greatly diminished. These activities when shared together as a family help us feel united and connected. Without sharing them is it any wonder that many people feel disconnected, depressed, dissatisfied, and alone or lost? We don’t get the same benefit eating dinner in front of the T.V. as we do having family conversation and eye contact.
Ironically the faster the technology the more impatient we become and the less time we seem to have. Thirty years ago my guru, Shrila Prabhupada was well aware of this feature of illusion or maya. He would joke that it takes one hour to fly to one’s destination, and two to drive to the airport. People used to live where they work and now with the automobile people can drive 65 miles an hour, but they have to drive hours to work. So for every advantage we think we are making there are always disadvantages.
In preparing to come to the West, Prabhupada lived in Vrindavana—a small town at the time—amidst simple, yet spiritually potent surroundings. He had renounced family life and had the time and desire to contemplate life’s essential and meaningful questions, while also studying the literatures of the great disciples of Lord Chaitanya, the six Gosvamis and others. He used his life experience and spiritual standing in addition to the conclusions he gained from scriptural study to prepare his commentaries on Vedic literature.
His perspective also benefited from seeing the advent of the age of technology and he could compare the old ways with the new. However, he was not an old, out of touch person or against progress, but a practical, though spiritual oriented man. He used the devises of the day if they could help him in spreading Krishna consciousness, but was quick to point out their shortcomings especially in how they could impede or distract our spiritual awareness, or even material happiness.
He taught us how to use the modern inventions of the world to spread Krishna consciousness, but that also, the natural ways of simple living and high thinking were the most essential foundation for living. The simple life of agriculture and cow protection is helpful for spiritual cultivation. Like many people and devotees, I have a computer, a fast internet connection, am on FaceBook and use a cell phone. At the same time I am well aware of their shortcomings. It takes discipline to not spend too much time online or with these devises. Time is precious and we have to make sure it doesn't slip through our hands with little spiritual profit.
By dedicating my morning to sadhana or spiritual practice which involves chanting Hare Krishna and making sure I read the scriptures and hear lectures, I keep that essential Krishna connection enabling me to keep proper balance. And for me, spending time in Nature—just being, but also watching and listening, and growing flowers and vegetables is also helpful for my spiritual life. Time with the land helps me to see practically how I am dependent on Krishna through his energy of the natural laws, and that I have to slow down to smell the roses (after offering them to Krishna!).