Tuesday 19 April 2022


 We live in a world of constant distraction and the result of this is that we are endlessly driven to seek new stimulation. It has to be admitted that even reading and writing posts on a blog can fall into that category if we are not careful. You can see why all proper spiritual authorities insist that the spiritual life should be one of discipline that to the outer eye might even seem uneventful and dull. Distraction means we never settle inside. We never find real calm or peace. We always must be moving on to the next novelty to revive our jaded souls. But just for a minute and then we must move on again.

This has always been a problem for human beings seeking God which is why the early monks would withdraw to the desert or else to remote islands where worldly distractions would not disturb them. They would be left in the company of only their own soul and they could confront its problems directly, without having anything to entice them away from it. But now the situation is far worse than it has ever been as modern technology has given us the opportunity to be distracted 24 hours a day if we choose. I remember when I was young often feeling a bit bored but you learned to live with the boredom or else found something constructive to do. The young today are unable to be bored and this, though it may not seem so, is their great loss. They cannot be blamed. They live in a world of easy and constant and excessive distraction which is virtually impossible to resist. They are, quite literally, being taken away from their souls.

Fasting is a traditional spiritual practise designed to reduce stimulation to a minimum. Stimulation is bad or can be bad because it exteriorises us. It pulls our attention away from the reality of our inner life and being into a constant stream of worldly impressions, always moving, always changing, never still so always shallow. The principle of fasting can be applied to other areas of life than that of food. Meditation is fasting of the mind and for any spiritual person, I am tempted to say for any person, spiritually inclined or not, fasting from technology is essential. It is becoming more difficult to do this by the day but that only means it is even more important to try to free oneself from the tyranny of technological devices which are expressly designed to distract. You empty your soul into them and you get an immediate hit but then there is emptiness so off you go again.

The distracted person is a superficial person. He lives on the surface of life, always looking for its glitter but never seeing the source of the light. As a consequence he must always seek more and greater distraction. His attention requires more stimulus in order to be engaged. He will be restless, emotionally unstable and increasingly unable to deal with pain and sorrow because for him life has become all about entertainment. Don't think this just afflicts the uneducated. The sophisticated intellectual type is affected  by his sophisticated intellectual distractions in just the same way.

We can't sit and do nothing, not for long anyway, and nor should we. But we should make every effort to avoid the temptation of constant distraction. Jesus told us to watch and pray. This means focus on the inner world. Give your attention to the realties of spirit and seek to understand your own heart and how it might be led astray by worldly distractions. For there is a real sense in which too much distraction can lead to spiritual destruction.


David Earle said...

You're right, the internet has gotten so vast and access to smart-phones have made it so that nearly everybody can be distracted on a 24-7 basis if they so desire, no matter how niche their interests are.

Since becoming a Christian, I found the motivation to disengage from many of the things that I used to feel compelled to distract myself with, and these days my online time is usually very brief and purposeful.

I think many people default-to external stimulation or whatever their particular distractions are, when we should really be defaulting-to checking in with our inner selves, here and now, as often as one can remember to do so.

We were bored far more often in the past, and I suspect that was a good thing.

Anonymous said...

Thank - you. I needed to hear this. Though I have detached myself from many old distractions; the internet, filled with blogs and debates and all manner of distraction, is defiantly a challenge to detach from. But detach from it we must. Yes, very limited time should be spent on it. I find it is one of the biggest temptations of the modern era.

John29 said...

I agree entirely but sadly the pace of modern life with for many people the constant bombardment of information to process adds to the distraction and inner turmoil. And what do many do outside the workplace? Often take in more distractions and media information. Back in 1986 Neil Postman wrote a book ‘Amusing ourselves to Death’, and the title says it all.