Unplugged and loving it

[Found in notebook, written April 20, 2011]

In his influential book Thou Shall Prosper: Ten Commandments for Making Money (I describe it as influential because it has influenced me so deeply), Rabbi Daniel Lapin encourages his readers to make goals and delve into their life’s purposes but not before spending two or three days avoiding all electronic screens. Those brightly colored images have a mesmerizing effect, much like a deer confronted by headlights, Lapin said. Better to clear the mind before focusing on weighty matters.

As I pen these words (literally, pen to paper), I am one-third of my way through my first day of avoiding screens. The impact is uncanny. The urge to flip on the computer or the television is occasionally overwhelming, like the urge to take a drink must be to an alcoholic.

But the difference in productivity is astonishing. Without the ability to switch gears and multitask, I’ve filled six pages of a composition book in little more than an hour, preserving in a flurry thoughts that had been bouncing around unfinished in my mind for days.

As I’ve been writing, no email popping into my mailbox has diverted my attention. The urge to Google the information I need to insert into my essays has gone unfulfilled and, with it, the impulse to wander to other familiar Internet haunts to see if anything has changed since my last visit.

Lapin is an orthodox Jew who takes the Sabbath seriously and literally. His family abstains from work from sunset Friday through Saturday for a time of worship and introspection.

In this plugged-in and hectic era, a regular sabbatical makes a great deal of sense. Even a few hours into this unplugged exercise, I find myself tapping into reservoirs that have been neglected – not just stopping to smell the roses (difficult anyway after a spring snowstorm) but assessing where I am, what I’m doing and why. Too often the quotidian (i.e., the everyday routine) drags us along and we hardly have time to think – and making an appointment with ourselves to take the time to think is essential, lest we collide with life the way a deer collides with an oncoming car.

And so I put pen to paper, I play with the dog, I prepare a meal, I read books, I perform chores that have been neglected – in short, I do everything except fire up the computer or television. I will cheat for a time tonight when Red and I meet our weekly appointment with American Idol. That will be a setback of sorts, but the achievement of spending an unplugged day or two has already begun to bear fruit.

What will I learn from this exercise? We shall see.

But it has given me time to contemplate questions that deserve answers. What will you do with the time that’s left? Why are you here? What is the best use of your gifts? How can you make the world a better place? How can you make your life a better life? What makes you happy? What makes you free? What gives you life?

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The power of short books

Books are getting shorter. The Domino Project launched by Seth Godin and friends has been publishing a series of manifestos, as they call them, all fewer than 100 pages and 5.25″ by 7.5″ – and all of them pack quite a punch. They took it to an extreme Wednesday with the release of what they’re calling a “one-page book,” a poster detailing the federal budget.

My own A Scream of Consciousness and Refuse to be Afraid run about 90 pages, in part because, well, I said all I needed to say in that space.

In his introduction to his translation of Abandonment to Divine Providence, a k a The Sacrament of the Present Moment, John Beevers writes:

Short books often have great power. A few that come to mind are Thomas à Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ, the Communist Manifesto, Paine’s The Rights of Man, Rousseau’s Social Contract, St. Thérèse’s The Story of a Soul and, of course, the Gospels. There is a very human reason for this. Most people have neither the time nor the inclination to plough through a five-volume treatise. They want the message, whatever it is, given to them in as few pages as possible. This is no new phenomenon. Pamphlets may not give as much enjoyment as a many-volumed book, but it is arguable that they have had vastly more influence.

And it is not only the reader who is affected by a short book. Its writer is. The effort, whether conscious or not, to concentrate his thought into a hundred or so pages instead of a thousand, gives this thought a sharpness and urgency which would inevitably be diffused over many volumes.

I would heartily recommend the Domino Project books – Godin’s We Are All Weird or Poke the Box, Read This Before Our Next Meeting by Al Pittampalli, Anything You Want by Derek Sivers, or Do the Work by Steven Pressfield, for example – or of course my own humble efforts (see the right sidebar for previews).

I’m not going to suggest that these are as good as those books Beevers rattled off, but they do pack a punch, if I say so myself.

The Sacrament of the Present Moment, of course, plays an integral role in the ideas in A Scream of Consciousness. From the pages in the Amazon preview I think Beevers’ translation might be a little more accessible than the one I read by Kitty Muggeridge, but it’s the ideas of Father Jean-Pierre de Caussade that resonate in any case.

Happy reading!