I recently found myself on a 14 hour non-stop flight from Dubai to Washington D.C. I don’t travel well. I have a tendency to get airsick, I can’t sleep on planes, I get dehydrated and stuffed up, and wind up with jet lag and more often than not, a cold. Ironically I love to be in foreign places, and frequently find myself wishing for transporter technology. On this trip, not only was I coughing, slightly nauseous, bleary/sand-paper-eyed, but my legs were swollen and covered in bruises from climbing in and out of helicopters. Long story.
To alleviate my discomfort, I turned on my ipod, full blast, and crankily searched around for the perfect music or audiobook that would magically render me peaceful. No such luck. I dozed fitfully. When we landed I pulled out my cell phone checking for messages, then turned on the blackberry making sure there were no emergencies at work. Both had low batteries, contributing to my sense of unease. I searched around for a bathroom and ATM, worrying that two major needs wouldn’t be met. My luggage hadn’t arrived, owing to the fact that I had been thoughtfully tagged as a quadruple security threat by the lovely and patient airport officials in Dubai (which incidentally had also earlier led to two very invasive and personal “pat-downs.”) About an hour or so after the other passengers had left to go home, my luggage rumbled up the carousel, leading me to believe that it had been handsearched for the third time. I flagged down a cab, then tried to get home in the morning rush hour in Washington D.C., made worse by construction on the beltway that also necessitated cutting down all the beautiful trees on the side of the road. I got home, and turned on my computer, only to find that my wi-fi wasn’t working because the fuse in the basement tripped while I was gone. I finally laid down to sleep, to the sound of jackhammers from the freeway construction going on nearly a mile away. This, I thought, was ridiculous. Modern comforts, my ass. My body wasn’t designed to fly, and I wasn’t designed to hurtle through the sky in a giant metal tube at 500 mph, zipping past time zone after time zone. The sense of bodily misplacement that only goes away with a good night sleep and hot soup is a most disconcerting feeling. Since when did I become thoroughly and disturbingly addicted to the crackberry? Why do people need to get in touch with me 24 hours a day? My parents and grandparents got along just fine without cell phones. I realized that my present state could most easily be described as the opposite of serenity. I was utterly non-serene. And when the serenity was stripped away, there went my patience, compassion, perspective, and sense of humor. I was less of a person. Certainly a less spiritual person, because of my utter immersion in the trappings of a modern life.
So are we unable to experience real serenity or spirituality in a modern world? Do we have to separate ourselves from the modern world to be our most peaceful and whole selves? Does that separation have to be physical, or is a mental discipline enough to keep out the scratching persistence of modern anxiety? Do we need to evolve? Our hunter gatherer ancestors had to tie themselves to a life of agriculture. Technology is almost always disruptive. Is the answer that we must evolve to find peacefulness amid the airplanes and jackhammers and constantly ringing phones?
I think that in general I have evolved. I prize the peacefulness of my life, and usually do not notice the phone, computer, cars, etc. I live in this world and am happy. In fact, the ability to be happy in most any circumstance is, I think, one of my defining attributes. However, sometimes a particularly long plane ride will remind me that I need to feel a breeze instead of conditioned air, that I need to smell cholorphyll instead of asphalt, and that I need to look a friend in the eye instead of staring at a computer screen. Sometimes the modernity is a bit much for me, and I need to grab for that bit of serenity by hitting a metaphorical ctrl+alt+delete in my life. If I’m not around to police the comments, I’ll be off weeding my garden…