You should med­i­tate ev­ery day

Centre Daily Times (Sunday) - - Opinion - BY FARHAD MANJOO

Be­cause I live in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia, where this sort of thing is re­quired by lo­cal or­di­nance, I spent New Year’s Day at a med­i­ta­tion cen­ter, sur­rounded by hun­dreds of wealthy, well-mean­ing, Patag­o­nia-clad white peo­ple seek­ing to re­store or­der and bal­ance to their tech-be­sot­ted lives.

In the past, I might have mocked such pro­ceed­ings, but it’s the peo­ple who haven’t re­signed them­selves to med­i­ta­tion re­treats who now make me most ner­vous, ac­tu­ally.

Which brings me to my point: It’s 2019. Why haven’t you started med­i­tat­ing?

I’ve been a tech­nol­ogy jour­nal­ist for nearly 20 years and a tech devo­tee even longer. Over that time, I’ve been ob­sessed with how the dig­i­tal ex­pe­ri­ence scram­bles how we make sense of the real world.

Tech­nol­ogy may have lib­er­ated us from the old gate­keep­ers, but it also cre­ated a cul­ture of choose-your-own-fact niches, el­e­vated con­spir­acy think­ing to the cen­ter of pub­lic con­scious­ness and brought the in­ces­sant night­mare of high­school-clique drama to ev­ery hu­man en­deavor.

It also skewed our ex­pe­ri­ence of daily re­al­ity. Ob­jec­tively, the world to­day is bet­ter than ever, but the dig­i­tal world in­evitably makes ev­ery­one feel worse. It isn’t just the sub­stance of daily news that un­moors you, but also the speed and vol­ume and over­sat­u­rated fak­ery of it all.

A few years ago, I be­gan to fear that the caus­tic mech­a­nisms of the in­ter­net were eat­ing away at my brain, turn­ing me into an em­bit­tered, dis­tracted, re­flex­ively cyn­i­cal churl. Since then, I’ve done ev­ery­thing I can to de­tox. I con­sulted app block­ers and screen-time mon­i­tors to keep me off­line. I even got my news from print news­pa­pers to ex­pe­ri­ence a slower, more de­lib­er­ate pre­sen­ta­tion of me­dia.

But there are lim­its to the sup­pos­edly lifechang­ing magic of go­ing off­line. Smart­phones are as cen­tral to the econ­omy as cars and credit cards, and a lot of peo­ple have lit­tle mean­ing­ful op­por­tu­nity to quit.

And the “off­line” world is now ruled by what hap­pens on­line. Es­cape is im­pos­si­ble. Quips on Twit­ter are in­di­rectly pro­gram­ming ca­ble news, and what­ever lengths you might go to to shield your kid from the dark pow­ers of phones, her so­cial life will still rise and fall ac­cord­ing to the in­scrutable dy­nam­ics of In­sta­gram and Fort­nite.

And so, to sur­vive the brain-dis­solv­ing in­ter­net, I turned to med­i­ta­tion.

Don’t roll your eyes. You’ve heard about the ben­e­fits of mind­ful­ness be­fore. Med­i­ta­tion has been ris­ing up the lad­der of West Coast well­ness fads for sev­eral years and is now firmly in the zeit­geist.

It’s the sub­ject of count­less books, pod­casts, con­fer­ences, a mil­lion-dol­lar app war. It’s ex­tolled by CEOs and en­ter­tain­ers and even taught in my kids’ el­e­men­tary school. The fad is backed by reams of sci­en­tific re­search show­ing the ben­e­fits of mind­ful­ness for your phys­i­cal and men­tal health – how even short-term stints im­prove your at­ten­tion span and your abil­ity to fo­cus, your mem­ory and other cog­ni­tive func­tions.

I knew all of this when I first be­gan med­i­tat­ing a year ago, but I was still sur­prised at how the prac­tice al­tered my re­la­tion­ship with the dig­i­tal world. At first, it wasn’t easy: After decades of swim­ming in the fre­netic dig­i­tal wa­ters, I found that my mind was of­ten too scram­bled to ac­com­mo­date much fo­cus.

Then, about four months ago, I brute-forced it: I made med­i­ta­tion part of my morn­ing rou­tine and made my­self stick with it. I started with 10 min­utes a day, then built up to 15, 20, then 30. Even­tu­ally, some­thing clicked, and the ben­e­fits be­came no­tice­able, and then re­mark­able.

The best way I can de­scribe the ef­fect is to liken it to a soft­ware up­grade for my brain – an up­date de­signed to guard against the ter­ri­ble way the on­line world takes over your time and your mind.

Now, even with­out app block­ers, I can stay away from mind­less on­line haunts with­out wor­ry­ing that I’m miss­ing out. I can bet­ter dis­tin­guish what’s im­por­tant from what’s triv­ial, and I’m more gra­cious and em­pa­thetic with oth­ers on­line.

I hope you give it a try. I hope ev­ery­one does. I’m not promis­ing med­i­ta­tion will fix ev­ery­thing about how the in­ter­net has ru­ined you.

But what if it does?

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