It was time to upgrade. For thirteen years we had been a strictly network TV family. Our viewing pleasures were limited to 6 channels of vanilla flavored entertainment. Until that time, I had always feared taking the plunge into the channel-enriched worlds of cable or satellite television. Whenever the topic would arise, I anxiously imagined my children staring open-mouthed at consecutively viewed cable shows that caused their intelligence quotients to drop along with their muscle tone, grades, relationships, and morals.
Then came the Winter Olympics. My sports obsessed family argued that we could purchase a subscription for satellite television that would circumvent the maudlin, violin-drenched human-interest stories provided by network Olympic coverage. By signing up, my family could watch the Olympics the way I used to watch it as a kid—just the events as they were happening with a minimum of commentary.
There is an ancient aphorism about not allowing a camel to get its nose under your tent. If you do, the saying goes, it won’t be long before the whole head will appear, then the neck, followed by the shoulders, chest, belly, and finally the haunches. The implication of this metaphor is that once a camel insinuates itself into your tent, it can make for a tenacious, demanding houseguest.
As the Winter Olympic torch was quenched that year, the flames of March Madness began to ignite in my heart. “Just one more month of satellite TV will help my kids develop a better understanding of a sport they’re learning.” I reasoned. Logic like that resulted in satellite-enhanced television extending past Easter, past Mayday. It wasn’t long before my satellite dish, kids and me found ourselves camped around one full-sized camel that had taken up residence in our basement.
Generally, I found that my fears of TV-hypnotized children did not come to pass. Instead, what I discovered was that I was the only kid in my house staring open-mouthed transfixed at fifty-seven channels of mind-numbing distraction.
In the Jewish tradition, it is referred to as the “Shekhinah.” In the Quran, it is spoken of as the “Sukainah.” The Upanishads of Hinduism speak of “Brahman,” and “Atman.” Buddhists refer to the “Buddha Nature.” Mystics in the Christian tradition utilize a wide spectrum of evocative names for the indwelling Presence that pulses at the core of the human heart. Like mystics of all traditions, they describe that underneath the cacophony of thoughts, feelings, and superficial desires, we have a gentle and loving guide who waits to lead us to more peace, more joy, more love, and more fulfillment of our deepest desires than we can ask for or imagine.
The fundamental Easter skill upon which all other skills depend has to do with our willingness to let ourselves be led deeper down and further in. In any given moment, we can take a decision and drop down. Centered at the deepest part of our heart, we can evaluate impending decisions according to Gospel standards. “Does this action (or inaction) bring more compassion, more energy, more peace, more justice, and more joy into the world over time, or does it detract?” Having discerned the pathway, we have at our disposal, a reservoir of resources to do what we could never accomplish on our own without the Higher or Deeper Power that pulses from our center.
I look back on that quaint time when the primary distraction from Indwelling Presence emanated from a single device in my basement. The notion that everyone I know…including my children…carries a portable television set with: unlimited channels, a computer, an Xbox, a pinball machine, a library and so much more…all on their phones (we still call them that right?) both fascinates and horrifies me. Like every piece of human technology ever invented, just like every human being ever invented, that phone can accomplish more good or harm than we could ever imagined.
In academic settings, if you want to conduct experiments on human subjects, you have to submit a proposal to an institutional review board (IRB) demonstrating very clear procedures that will minimize the potential risks to subjects. A dozen or so years into this grand experiment that you and I and our children are participating in, perhaps it is time for each of us to articulate for ourselves the harm-mitigating procedures we are using to safeguard what’s best in our human experience. The device buzzing in your pocket just now, under the right circumstances, has the power to connect you as well as the potential to divide you…even from your own self.
What procedures have you folded into your days that creates a substantial quiet space to listen for that still quiet Presence that pulses from the source of your most deeply held desires?