All spiritual traditions embrace the principle of turning within to realize the authentic or higher self which is prior to conditioning of the small ego-self. That spiritual-self has different names in various traditions: God consciousness, Christ consciousness, Buddha consciousness, Krishna consciousness, and others. In my book Escape your own Prison, I introduce the term omni consciousness as a neutral expression of the universal pure consciousness. “Omni consciousness” doesn’t carry the baggage of religious and spiritual traditions that can be off-putting for many.
Call it whatever you may, the purpose of turning within remains the same: to pull back from ego involvements and attachments in the material world and reconnect with the spiritual-self. Religious and spiritual traditions have rituals to remind us during the day of the spiritual-self so that we don’t drown in addictive me-self pursuits. These safety net practices are to prevent total absorption in ego- driven activities: prayer beads, tassles (tzitzit), mantras, calls to prayer, are some of the rituals for reminding us of the spiritual domain.
Enter the cell phone. Rather than clutching beads to turn within, everyone is clutching a cell phone to turn “out there.” This quest is non-stop and knows no boundaries. A recent New Yorker cover brilliantly captures the phenomenon. It pictures a family standing on a beach–obviously on vacation (for inner peace?)—mom, dad, sister and brother are each staring at their cell phone screens, their backs to the turquoise tropical bay.
But I don’t have to go to an exotic island to witness such a scene. As I walk past outdoor cafes on Manhattan’s upper east side, everyone seems to be gazing at a screen, not at their companions. The same on buses, elevators, and even people strolling in the park.
Commentators have criticized this 21st century iconic behavior for its anti-social quality, the addictive element (texting every thought and action), and the absorption in trivial communications (“the pizza here is really good”).
Far more worrisome is that technology has provided the ego with a new high horse to celebrate its glory: The ego rides again. Me central– my thoughts, my activities, my plans–is the driving force. As the horse picks up speed and savors its self aggrandizement, the spiritual-self fades further and further from sight. Taking yoga classes, eating vegetables, or recycling your garbage will not suffice as antidotes.
Tackling the addiction to technology should be number one on the agenda of serious spiritual seekers. The challenge is to separate the powerful functional uses of technology from the addictive ego-driven applications.
Sorry, but I don’t have a quick fix to suggest. A useful start might be to take a vacation from the non-functional, non-work related uses to get a sense of just how addicted you are. If you’ve experienced this, you may be spiritually challenged: “Oh my God, where’s my cell phone? Oh no, I left it home. How will I get through the day?” What a dilemma. You might actually have to turn within.
The cell phone–and technology in general— highlights the battle between the pull to the manifest material world and the spirituality domain. Judaism has a powerful effective antidote–at least for those who embrace shabbos observance. Adopting shabbos observance could initiate a break from technology addiction and jump-start you on a genuine spiritual path and lifestyle.