21st Century Crack

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I am a crack addict.

Okay, so I'm not talking about a literal crystalline tropane alkaloid. I'll leave that stuff to the Freuds and Sir Arthur Conan Doyles of the world. But I've got my own crack. We all do.

Crack is those things we all do, whether out of weakness or habit or loneliness or anger or whatever, those things we do that make us look back later (sometimes *much* later) and go "why?" Those things we do because we can't stop doing them. An addiction, but addiction is too loaded and narrow a word -- because this is something embedded deeper in our personality subroutine (and how much of our personality is the sum of our daily routines?)

Crack is what we do when we move by force of habit alone, or by the external pressures we've subjected ourselves to. We go to work and please the boss, because we're comfortable in the situation we're in (even when we're not comfortable there) and the idea of change -- of a *big* change (getting fired, moving, whatever) -- is scary. We go home and watch TV because it's always there. It's easy. We eat junk food because it's cheap and fast. It's easy. We spend our time on this and that, and the hours pass by, and the days pass by, and the months and years pass by.

And eventually we look back and we wonder where all the time went. And we write it off -- "oh, the years just go by faster when you're older," we say. "We have to spend all those hours at work...right? We need to get by." And of course when we come home tired from work, we only have so much energy. Who wants to make big changes -- life-altering changes -- when it's so much *easier* to stay with the familiar. To watch TV, or read a book, or play a video game, or go to bed early, or listen to music, or surf the net, or...or whatever it is we do that takes up all of our time, that makes those many long hours pass and seem like they were short and went by too fast.

Try sitting still. For just half an hour, try sitting absolutely still. No TV, no music, no books or magazines, no cell phones or internet. No external stimulation at all. Don't count the patterns on the wallpaper, don't read the book titles on the shelf in front of you. Don't sit on a couch or bed where you'll fall asleep. Just find a place to sit -- the more unusual the better -- and don't move for half an hour. It's not a long time really. One sitcom. Less time than most people spend commuting each day.

You might be surprised how hard it is. We're not used to sitting still, being silent and unstimulated. We have portable DVD players and car DVD players, so we can watch a movie anywhere. We have car stereos that are almost never off -- we talk over the radio, not instead of it -- and mp3 players that we can immerse ourselves in at any time. Cell phones come with us everywhere so we can have a pre-scripted, safe conversation any time we get bored and want to chat. Restaurants, doctor offices and businesses have TVs on for customers, and I haven't found a store in the last couple months I've been paying attention where music isn't blaring over the speakers. It can be anything -- rock, country, hiphop, "easy listening" (an interesting label) -- as long as it's something to keep us from getting antsy.

Because in silence people get antsy. When they don't have something to do, people get antsy. Why? You ever wonder why?

I think it's because deep down all of us know that living this modern life we live, we've subjected ourselves to so many rules and habits and norms that we're in some sense trapped by them. Trapped into a life lived shallowly, passed by *subsisting* a day at a time instead of *existing*. (I'll refrain from bringing politics into this by expounding on bread and circuses). We have to exist in our familiar pattern because to live outside of it, to be free of it, is hard and frightening, because it's unfamiliar, it's not what we know -- and humans have always feared the unknown (an often handy evolutionary holdover).

When people sit still, when they encounter silence and no outside stimulation, even when just waiting at a doctor's office with no TV, music or magazines, they get antsy. And I think it's because they don't know what to do -- for that one brief quarter-hour, they are at a total loss when encountering the freedom that is being left with only one's own thoughts. It's a bit like crack withdrawal.

Where do your thoughts go when left to their own? If you find that for half an hour you merely sit and think about work or relationships or maybe even a TV show, then try sitting for an hour, maybe two. Maybe more. Sit however long you need to before you have an 'aha' moment. One of those Big Pauses. When you start to look at life a little different.

It probably won't last, that insight. No radical paradigm shift is likely, I'm afraid. We're too well conditioned to today's society, too deeply embedded. A little exposure to the stimuli we've been so long trained to, and like rats in a maze we start to execute the familiar routines.

But maybe, just maybe, that brief time where your neurons fired a little out of the normal synch, maybe that miniscule difference will propagate, a chaotic influence like a butterfly changing weather patterns, and maybe you'll find yourself a little freer. Scary as that might be. Embrace the fear, seize it, consume it to strengthen your own inner power.

You're alive. You won't always be. Do something amazing before you're 90 and laying on your death bed wondering what it was all about and wondering why you worried so much about work and mortgages and clothes and money and what happened on a TV show. Seize the day, not because there won't always be more of them, but because damnit, life is just so much more *fun* when you're really living it.

Originally Written: 05-10-07
Last Updated: 05-10-07