‘Our ancestors had a regulated, disciplined life. They were not slaves of their senses as the modern people are. They used to do japa, pranayama, worship and study of religious books like the Bhagavad Gita, The Bhagavatam and the Ramayana. They used to do charity and selfless service, and observe auspicious days. They used to conduct spiritual conferences and pray for world peace and not for their individual selves. They used to take plenty of physical exercise in the form of walking ten to twenty miles a day and at a stretch. They used to observe yama and niyama rigidly. They used to live mostly in villages and not in congested areas. They were self-reliant and not dependent on others even for trivial matters. When today’s generation realizes the value of the way of ancient living, surely it will achieve all that it desires with the grace of the Lord.’ – Swami Sivananda Saraswati
A few months ago I was in a hotel in Chennai, India. In the breakfast room, I observed an interesting scene. At the table opposite me, two young Japanese women were sitting side by side, staring intensely at their iPhone screens. The waiter came and they ordered without taking their eyes off the phones, and when the food arrived, they glanced at it briefly before returning to their screens. This continued throughout the entire meal. Not once did I see the women look at each other, even when speaking. They were too engrossed in cyber world. Strangely, this scene is not uncommon. Just take a train and look around. You’re bound to see most people playing around with their phones. Very few individuals make eye contact or notice what’s going on around them.
A few months ago I took the decision to live without a mobile phone. It wasn’t so much a conscious ‘renunciation’, no, it was more of a gradual recognition that I didn’t really need or want it. I don’t want to be reachable everywhere and anywhere, and I also don’t want to carry e-mails and Internet access around with me. I want to see what’s going on around me, I want to look into people’s eyes, see flowers and nature. I want to be fully present to the moment and not be miles away with my mind. Of course, there is a middle path of only using a phone for emergencies, and keeping it switched off. And I’ve done this for a long time before I decided to give it up altogether. And I don’t miss it.
I am coming to the same conclusion what concerns the usage of computers and Internet. Again, it’s gradual. I just spent four months in India, and for most of the time, I hardly used the Internet at all – once a week for an hour at most. And my life felt so much better – more free, spontaneous and present. I didn’t feel that I was missing anything, and I had much more time to connect with the people that were actually in front of me.
Back home, it’s not so easy. I’m a writer, and write all of my articles and books on a computer. As I travel a lot, my friends are scattered all over the globe and it’s nice to keep in touch with them. But somehow, I feel it’s absurd to look at a screen for hours at a time to communicate with others, or to share ideas.
So I’m thinking of alternatives. When I was younger, I used to write with pen and paper, and I still do so sometimes. Part of my book ‘Meeting Shiva’ was written by a creek in Southern France. Ultimately, it’s all about choices. What’s most important to me? I may write faster on a computer, but is there really a need to hurry? Instead of writing e-mails to my friends, could I send them letters that I write outside basking in the sunshine? And would it not be nice to wait for a hand-written reply that takes a couple of weeks to arrive, rather than instantly in my inbox? I remember how nice it used to be to receive such letters when I was a child. Now everything has to be instant, and people get minor stress attacks when a text message isn’t replied to within seconds.
There’s something really beautiful in slowing down and living simply. The world has become so fast, and we’re all buying into it. But the question that always arises in me is: is it really necessary? And more importantly, do I want to do it?
Going slow and doing things differently may take more effort. Some years ago, I decided to go to Pakistan without flying. Yes, it took a long time. But the adventures I had and the people I met were really worth it. So I’d rather take a journey like this once in a lifetime than five weekend plane trips in a year. Likewise, returning to a more natural way of living might be more labour-intensive and require more patience, but it may also be more rewarding. Imagine sitting around a fire and sharing thoughts such as these verbally, rather than in front of a screen. Imagine the glow in people’s eyes, their smiles, their enthusiasm.
I realize I’m writing myself out of a job here. But returning to a more natural way of life away from machines seems the logical choice to me in a world that’s running out of resources and is getting crazier every day. If that means I have to write my books in a different way, or stop writing altogether and start talking, then so be it. I’m thinking of doing an experiment of giving up the Internet for a year and see what happens in my life as a result. It will be interesting as many of us, myself included, rely on the Internet for so much. But I have a feeling that my life will be greatly enriched by doing so.