**This post was written by guest-blogger, Angela Pitts of Zen Being ***
“The machine is now the world. Nature is something we visit on vacations. The Machine’s values of a consuming monoculture with its powerful teaching tool, television, have taken away our independence in making personal and collective decisions. The leaders of the Machine proclaim that every new product is progress and that every culture, every part of the world, must have and buy what these leaders choose to supply. Diversity in the world is quickly being lost. Whole species are becoming extinct daily. Cultural traditions are being lost…Most of us are like robots in service to a monolithic Machine. And we are in need of holy mechanics to help us reclaim our humanity.”
David Kyle, Human Robots and Holy Mechanics. Portland, OR: Swan/Raven & Co. 1993, p. 21.
I once witnessed the pausing of the Machine. It was really only a small part of the Machine, but when the humming and buzzing of it stopped for a few hours, I was able to see the Machine. You see, it is all around us and dominates almost every aspect of our lives, but one of the reasons that it is so pervasive is that it is dim to our eyes and hums along as a background noise that we don’t notice.
I was in New York on a hot, humid summer day. Everyone in the city had amped their air conditioners to such a degree that one cog in the Machine reached its breaking point. Lights, TV’s, computers, air conditioners, fans, appliances, gaming consoles, radios, and anything else that plugs into the magic outlet on the wall went silent, still, blacked out. For a few minutes, I could hear birds. I noticed the absence of the humming of electricity, a half-deafening sound that I’d never noticed before, and which had drowned out all the sounds of the natural world that somehow survived in the City.
People started exiting their stifling towers and going out into the parks and playgrounds. They began to relax a little. They couldn’t buy anything, because no stores were open. They couldn’t watch TV, because the magic outlet was dead for a time. They couldn’t distract themselves with other forms of blaring, flickering, multi-tasking media entertainment. They could, however, just be.
Just being was alien and uncomfortable. I heard many people complain that they couldn’t do this or that and that it was so hot and humid—“when will the air conditioner ever come back on?” Living without the Machine for even a little while made some people jittery, nervous, restless, impatient, rude. Just being seemed a pointless waste of precious time to some. And, having lived in an artificial climate all summer long had so estranged them from Nature’s cycles that the summer air was a torturer to minds that focused so adamantly on when the artificial air units would turn back on.
We do live in a Machine world. We are part of it. We contribute to it with our “productivity” and consumerism. We feed it by allowing our minds to be passive recipients of endless marketing campaigns. And, it feeds us on high fructose corn syrup, fad diets, deep-fried sticks that are highly processed and far removed from the potatoes that they once were, meat from animals who spent their whole lives in factory farms until they were processed in plants and wrapped in cellophane packages, pesticide-sprayed fruits and vegetables from farms in the developing world, and disease-causing fillers, preservatives, chemicals, and additives.
One of the principle precepts of Buddhism is “Do no harm.” The Machine does harm in virtually every community all over the world as it eliminates indigenous cultures, pollutes and destroys whole ecosystems, and causes extinction of species every day. The figures in a corporate spread-sheet or the decisions made in a corporate board-room often have direct, far-reaching consequences for people, animals, and ecosystems far away. Our planet is in real peril.
The Machine with its “productivity” rhetoric has induced us into believing that hyperactive, multi-tasking overdrive is the only way to beat out competition. The new standard of work ethic in the Machine is, in reality, unethical and misanthropic. It does harm. It induces stress; stress induces disease. Scientific evidence has demonstrated that multi-tasking negatively impacts the mind’s ability to focus and concentrate. We make poorer decisions and have poorer relationships when we are in overdrive all the time. We pay less attention to the outcomes of our actions. We pay less attention to our states of mind. We pay less attention to the cravings/ aversions of our egoic minds that ultimately perpetuate suffering. We simply pay less attention, and, therefore, cannot act in Mindfulness.
So, what can we do if we wish to do less harm, if we wish to lessen our participation in the Machine, and, thus, in the Machine’s destructive force? It is so difficult, because it is all around us—it has occupied every aspect of modern life. Our hospitals, educational institutions, institutions of law, insurance companies, corporations, restaurants, entertainment venues, gas stations, shopping malls, grocery stores, etc. etc. etc. all participate and we participate in them. Beginning to lessen one’s participation is, I think, a good place to start.
Lessening participation begins with Mindfulness. Becoming Mindful of the desires and aversions that living in the Machine has made one believe are real. Becoming curious about one’s cravings and aversions and just allowing the mind to observe the beginning, middle, and cessation of them is really useful. Noticing how many desires from the egoic mind come out of nowhere in a day and somehow manage to persuade you that if you only had this gadget or the newest version of that shiny object life would be better and you would be happy. Just noticing without acting on impulse helps one to notice the impermanence and unreality of the cravings and aversions that try to persuade one of their reality. With practice, one can detach more and allow more of those cravings and aversions to rise, pass, and fall away without jumping into action. Meditation helps. It helps a lot.
Things that may come with Mindfulness:
- Living more simply.
- Getting rid of harmful habits.
- Limiting exposure to media.
- Being out in nature more, where the soul longs to be.
- Slowing down.
- Doing what one loves and loving what one does.
- Buying less.
- Spending more time in awareness.
- Spending more time with family and friends.
- Eating better and honoring the whole being.
“Do no harm. Do good.” These are the Buddha’s teachings. We can’t always see the ends of our actions—whether they do harm or do good. But, we can become more conscientious of the values, products, and activities that dominate our attention and our way of life. Becoming more Mindful is a starting place for experiencing the Bliss that arises from just Being; and, in just Being, we do less harm and more good.
Angela Pitts, 2012