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Plugging In

Plugging In

When was the last time you were fully alive in the moment?


We've all seen them: the teenager who breezes into the house with a cell phone attached to her ear, chatting animatedly into the phone while treating the people around her like so many sticks of furniture...

The video-game addict hunched over his computer monitor or hand-held electronic game, an invisible wall between him and the rest of the world...

The businessperson at lunch time -- be it in an upscale restaurant or a hot-dog stand -- chewing mechanically but tasting nothing while focused on his laptop...

The power-walker communing with her iPod, eyes glazed. She might as well be walking through a desert for all the notice she takes of the scenery or the humanity around her...

Their minds are elsewhere. Their minds are nowhere.

They are plugged in.

Stop, Look and Listen

I plead guilty to an addiction of my own. Washing the dishes automatically means reaching for the Walkman or MP3 player. Folding laundry or preparing supper, ditto. In a world that seems to be moving faster all the time, it makes sense to do two things at once, right? Or three, or four, if you can manage it...

The trouble is, when you do that you're only giving a part of yourself to each thing. And not necessarily the most conscious part.

Some years back when my older children were little, I made an astonishing discovery: I was not really looking at my kids. They would trot after me as I whirled through the house in my race to get things done, speaking at my back or profile, and receiving my answers in the form of a hurried sentence hurled over my shoulder.

When I realized this, I decided to do a really amazing thing. I decided to stop. To meet my child's eye. To communicate face-to-face, and not over the shoulder.

I was doing something. I was standing still and listening to my child.

It took enormous self-control. At first, impatience would bubble up and the well-worn messages din in my ear: "You're wasting time. You've got so much to take care of. Don't just stand there -- do something!"

But I was doing something. I was standing still and listening to my child. She might not have had anything of particular importance to share. He should have been able to condense his story into a fraction of the time it took to relate it. But they were my precious charges, and they had something to tell me. And I was offering them the basic respect of showing them that they were important enough to deserve having me stop and listen to them tell it.

Coming Alive

Fans of meditation like to talk about "mindfulness." Living mindfully means that when you're talking to your kids -- you're just talking to your kids. That's all. When you're driving your car, you're feeling the pedal beneath your foot, and the wheel against your palms; you're seeing what there is to be seen through the windshield. Really seeing it. It means being fully alive in the moment. It means noticing the tiny details of your surroundings, of your own actions. It means being there.

Perhaps that's why the great spiritual figures of Jewish history were often shepherds. The very nature of the job calls for complete immersion in the moment. You can't tend sheep and stare into a computer screen at the same time, or one of the little lambs is liable to wander off and leave you with a lot of explaining to do to the boss.

Abraham, Moses, King David -- all began their careers as humble shepherds, alone in the vastness of nature with the creatures they were pledged to protect. Their characters were shaped by solitude. They asked big questions and searched for answers big enough to encompass them. Because they were alone, and because they were as fully present as it is possible for a person to be, they opened themselves up to the possibility of God. There was no cell phone to distract them, no Palm Pilot to remind them of their appointments. There were no appointments. No digitally-stored music, either -- only the music of the wind sighing through the grass on which their sheep were dining.

Others walked past a strange phenomenon in the desert with no more than a vacant, fleeting glance. It was Moses who stopped, who noticed that a bush was burning but was not being consumed. And who was free to have a conversation with God that would alter history and change the face of the world forever.

Savor the Moment

I'm not advocating that we all drop what we're doing and take out an option on a flock of sheep. I am a product of our electronics age and enjoy its many conveniences as much as the next person.

But I do urge a certain level of life-enhancing mindfulness in this "plug-yourself-in" age of ours. Tend your sheep. Make eye contact with your kids. Slather just the right amount of mustard on your hot dog and savor each bite.

And keep your eyes open: Who knows? There may be a miracle lurking nearby, just waiting to be noticed.

June 24, 2006

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Visitor Comments: 11

(11) Yoshe :), June 30, 2006 12:00 AM

Every moment is a miracle ...

if we choose to recognize it. :)

(10) Tsipora, June 30, 2006 12:00 AM

So true!

I am amazed, this is SO true. I often try to pay attention to my good friends or even my mother without doing other things but it really becomes quite difficult. I have spoken to my friends about it and they seem to not understand why it's such a big deal to give people their spotlight of the moment and to not be busy with other things but my friends don't seem to understand the great importance of it. I am so glad that someone agrees with some of us, here. This applies especially if you're married; all the husband wants is to be listened to, and because women can sometimes be big talkers- we don't give him that. This factor applies, as well- that, when we're in the middle of reading a book and he needs someone to talk to, we still keep our finger in the book, or keep our glasses on- and sometimes, even keep our eyes in the book while he's unloading his problems unto us. We have to learn to be less selfish and more patient; thank you SOOO much for writing this article- it's very perceptive and helpful.

(9) Mindy, June 29, 2006 12:00 AM

Excellent- our children are losing out big time

A lot of the problems kids are having today is that they don't recieve enough love, and the fact that we might think we are accomplishing more by multi-tasking is giving them a very acute feeling of, "Ok- so the phone call is more important than me." Also, this obsession we have of trying to cram things in, I find, only leads us to waste time and not fully concenrtate on our task, thus producing inferior results.

(8) Anonymous, June 27, 2006 12:00 AM

Libby Lazewnik's article

I want to tell you how glad I am to have read Libby's article on I've read many of her books and love her stuff. Please have more of her articles posted!

(7) Sharmaine, June 27, 2006 12:00 AM

Are we really communicating?

Fantastic article. Really great!! I think when people buy their 'electronic equipment this article should be in the box. So many times I see a couple going for a walk and the wife usually is non-stop talking on the phone.I see many kids in the car an adult and talking on the cell phone. Recently was in a shop and a young couple walked in, the wife was talking on the cell phone. A few shopping isle's later I saw the husband take out his cell phone and call someone to talk to - he maybe should have called his wife on her cell phone.

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