“I might as well be dead.”
As the opening gambit to a conversation between mother and son, it was, I admit, guaranteed to get my attention. He didn’t sound particularly cheerless. In fact, if anything, he sounded quite excited by the idea. I was obviously missing something here.
He explained. An evening in front of the TV was responsible.
“It’s just mindless entertainment. It is like being dead… ” I didn’t think TV had become that bad…but then, I never watch it. “I am just moving from moment to moment,” he said, “watching an illusion on the screen. It is only when something sparks a train of thought and I pick up the phone to talk to you about it, that I wake up… I’m alive again. Then, when I put the phone down and go back to the TV, I go back to sleep.” Ah. I understood. “Its scary.”
We had been talking about how much of our lives are spent running on autopilot. Quite apart from the myriad bodily functions that are set to maintain themselves automatically, there are many things we do every day without paying the slightest heed to them. The drive we don’t register because it is too familiar… the chores we do without thinking… It is a useful skill in some ways, freeing the mind from directing a well-learned behaviour and allowing it to occupy itself with other things, but the danger is the same as with any other narcotic… it is easy to fall into a mindless dependency, instead of using the free space in attention for something more interesting.
Many writers, for example, deliberately take advantage of this free space. Agatha Christie is famously quoted as saying that the best time for planning a book is while doing the dishes. For those who make a conscious choice to benefit from this ability to work on autopilot, it is a time to multitask. For some, it is a time to clear the mind and rest within an inner stillness… for yet others it is a time of enhanced attention, where the mind is free to roam unexplored pathways.
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