No Signal

I look into the quizzical faces of a few freshman and sophomore high school students sitting here at the Dharma center as part of a world religions course. I really do not know what is going on in their minds. I imagine they find this a somewhat alien environment. They might be a little intimidated, unsure how to engage. They are in that developmental period of hesitancy and discovery, between youth and young adulthood—when we are not sure who we are. What a wonderful time to begin a study of Buddhism.

It is an efficacious time to be introduced to non-attachment. In high school we are just beginning to find out about ourselves as we step away from reliance on home and parents. We seek independence but also want something to bestow the same safety (assuming we have a safe home life). We venture away from the familiar but still cling to what we know. I wish more high school curriculums would include a conversation about the link between attachment, identity, and the anxiousness we experience at this time in our lives.

I have to admit I am not particularly skillful teaching this age group. Since I do not use social media, I am a bit out of the loop. But I am exposed to the societal effects of this communication medium and can employ it as a point of departure in discussing ego identity. On this level, social media and text messaging are a potent reminders of how we can become addicted to an illusory self preoccupied with a fear of being left out and the stress of always being available. This infuses our habitual mind with a mass of coping strategies that may or may not be beneficial.

I usually suggest to students who find themselves addicted to social media and texting to include some ‘unplugged’ time every day. I also suggest a media fast one day per week. This is all according to their capability and work/school responsibilities. Some teachers have the same difficulty unplugging. One high school teacher recounted his experience of freedom and relaxation while sojourning in the wilderness where there was no cell signal. He also recognized he might have the same experience every day if he would just shut off his device—but he does not do that.

It seems we can only handle spaciousness for a short time. But that might enough to introduce the possibility of a more sustained experience. The practice of meditation is like going out in nature where there is no cell signal except, in this case, we not only unplug from our devices but also our mental chatter. We might begin to notice how our use of media can exacerbate the noise in our minds and create a wireless tether. With this awareness we might be enticed to cease ‘twittering’ away our time and settle our minds.

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