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October 15, 2019

Surviving in the Age of Constant Distraction

By Vega Subramaniam

A couple months ago, I shared my deliberations about the fog I was in, that Mala was in, that I see a lot of people in our movements in. And since that time, not only has the fog not lifted, but things have gotten worse. They’ve gotten worse in my life as well as in our collective lives.

It’s one thing to talk about the importance of habits and rituals in our ability to maintain focus and productivity—and of course they matter. And it’s one thing to remind ourselves of the systems that we’re operating in, systems that are oppressive enough in the best of circumstances, and these are not the best of circumstances by a very, very long shot.

But what I still struggle with is how to stay positive, focused, and productive when wrenches keep tossing themselves into the works. I am quite sure you know what I mean. How do I; you; how does anybody find the discipline to focus on our priorities even when life keeps doing what life keeps doing?

Mala and I have a disorder. It’s a disorder where we take on too many things. We keep adding to our already-toppling calendars, task lists, obligations. And then, of course, because of the nature of Time, we are unable to fully meet our deadlines and obligations. And then we feel guilty. But as much as my guilty conscience tries to blame me for this, the rational part of me knows that this disorder is rooted in something much bigger than me.

You know how I can be so certain of this? Because I’m pretty sure that you yourself are thinking the same thing right now: you have a hard time saying no; you hate how constantly behind you are on everything; you find yourself craving a vacation, one where you don’t check email or even have access to it. You just wish that for one, solid, 48-hour period, time would just stop. True? Of course true.

Our individual disorders are direct, direct results of our larger social forces. It’s a society-wide affliction. And because it’s a society-wide affliction, that means that not only do I have to fight it in myself, but also that I won’t actually be successful in recovering from it unless I also fight against its societal manifestations.

…And that’s what I was going to focus my current post on: the societal causes and manifestations of Constant Distraction.

…And as I was starting to do that, some wrenches threw themselves into the works. Big, highly distracting wrenches. For us right now, the biggest wrench is that Mala was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. Super scary, to be sure, but thankfully, it’s caught early and is in its early stages. Surgery and radiation (along with rest, recovery, and all of your good wishes) ought to take care of it.

And true to form, when this wrench hit the works, I backslid into procrastination and numbness. Somehow, writing about the larger systemic influences on our seemingly personal disorders of zoning out and spinning our wheels was something I zoned out and spun my wheels on. Those wrenches got me, like I know they get us all.

This month has been a beautiful reminder to me how much we are always in the process of resetting our intentions. And that we can, in fact, always reset. It’s a matter, as it always is, of taking a small breath, feeling myself on the ground, and finding the smallest step I can take right now.

The truth about “habit change” is that “change” is a verb, not a noun. We are constantly changing, striving, relearning, re-patterning our way to our highest potential.

The guidestar is always there, to point me toward being more intentional, purposeful, and aligned. I can choose—as life gives me chances again and again and again…and again and again—to pivot toward it. Even if all I can do in this moment is take a breath, it is one breath deeper than before. One breath that brings expansion in this moment. One breath closer to being fully here.

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