April 5, 2007
The human race has learned to compartmentalize everything – from brain activity and life challenges to the rooms we live in.
Older houses, for example, had a number of little rooms, each designed for a specific function – a little kitchen for preparing food, a bathroom for private body matters, and a few bedrooms, where one slept, changed clothes, and performed intimate activities in the marriage bed (adults only). Often children shared bedrooms, and almost always the whole family shared one bathroom. In the living room, we lived, and usually in the dining room, we had our meals. Some homes had a formal living room – a parlor really, rarely used – and a den for everyday family living.
How different our living compartments are today! Our living space includes a big open area for sofas, an entertainment center and a dining area – all open to the kitchen. Cooking is a represented as a shared activity, but often as not, it involves getting a package of something out of the freezer and putting it in a microwave oven for one to five minutes before consuming. Meals are eaten standing up at a counter, on the run, on the way to something -- and with the family only on holidays or special occasions.
There are playrooms in which to isolate the children with computers, videogames and other toys. These children have separate bedrooms, and most have individual bathrooms. The parents’ bedroom is a “Master Suite,” designed to look like a hotel room, with an adjoining bathroom full of gadgets like a jacuzzi tub and a television set. There may even be a separate room in the basement for our movie theatre!
Our lives are lived in brief compartments of time. We sit at computers and pride ourselves on our ability to multi-task; we assume our kids are brighter than previous generations because they master this technology at an early age. Our pace is accelerated and we feel as if we are always under stress. We cannot relax. We don’t sleep well.
We have relinquished a great deal in our worship of the great god Progress. We have not had time to process the future before we embraced it. The human brain was not designed to be at its best in the compressed, claustrophobic compartments we have created for it. Children, hurried to become adults, will never know what they missed. They will not know the pace of nature, of the gentle shift of seasons, or the inherent beauty of the planet. They are provided with organized activities to fill their time; their heads are pumped full of facts which have nothing to do with truth. They mistake, as their schools mistake, memorization for learning.
The spiritual is not in the program, unless it is seen as a way to amass more things or enhance one’s status. The spiritual side of life is seen as one of the steps toward the serenity we seek but never seem to find. In reality, to become truly spiritual is to step outside the materialism that surrounds us; it is a difficult and sometimes painful journey. The only way to arrive at that destination is the long way.
The fact is, we are all suffering from attention deficit disorder to some degree. Television has accustomed us all to the constant interruption of commercials and affected our ability to focus for longer periods of time. Our ability to meditate has been replaced by a need to be on top of all things at all times, to control the out of control, and to perform at our most intense if not most excellent level, or at least to give the appearance of doing so.
The price is high. We do not yet know what toll this compartmentalization has taken on our individual existence or society as a whole. Some of us are thrust into nostalgia at the thought of a low-pressure life and seek to recapture it if we can, even in some small measure. Some of us move to smaller communities, only to find them inhabited with other humans with attention deficits. We study, we write, we join committees, we choose politicians. But we are overwhelmed with the number of people who simply don’t understand and do not question.
It’s not about our houses or about our choice of television fare. It’s about a shift in our ability to reason with our own lives and think for ourselves. It’s about our need to cut off our feelings and present a solid front of surface ease by consuming material wealth and objects instead of building outwardly from a spiritual base.
It’s about making time for that very spiritual seeking. It’s about time.