You’ve had dreams, goals, and pursuits paused by time’s fast pace and an already full calendar.
There is a peace in your spirit you remember as a child, somehow even a teenager if that makes sense, that is missing from you. You’re thinking it has something to do with growing up and being an adult, but this isn’t the case. Because the peace you are referring back to was around in your early college years too.
You are also not focusing much. I mean, there is so much coming at you with news, social media feeds, blog rolls, texts, and instant messaging. But that is just from the internet after all. There are of course the job responsibilities and other avenues of life which demand your time and attention.
But your phone sent another notification ping since this sentence started. And another.
So you come to believe your issue is about scheduling and organization, because how else can you explain not focusing on what matters most to you? Getting the most important things in your life completed, things pressed on you out of a sense of duty. Why then are you stagnant?
But it’s also this rise of anxiety most noticeable in you at the same time as you shuffle through all the distractions. It may have been a slow rise. It may have been drastic. But it’s here and it hums in the background all the time.
What about walks in the wilderness, to a place of silence, stillness, solitude? Is there something in the wilderness you’ve lost? Is the destination itself gone from your heart and mind?
The villains behind this are the intentionally designed distraction machines we have become addicted to. From smartphones, to computers, to instant messaging, we are inundated with constant blasts of information. We are saturated in information we have no time to sort out. And our attention is fully hijacked.
We have become busy as a result just to maintain and curate the headlines, facts, fake news, and constant communication. But busy doesn’t mean productive. We find ourselves overcommitted and stretched because we said yes to everything and the calendar is full. We are attempting to keep up with the next person, the droves of over achievers telling us how to order our days, and crush it every morning to launch into the next 14 hours of consecutive work to become better than anyone else in the field you are in.
We shouldn’t have to give into the intentional hijacking of our focus and time. Or the keeping up with the ‘crushing it’ folk.
Being carried off like an unexpected funeral procession by topics we didn’t ask for that have nothing to do with bettering ourselves and spiking our anxiety off the charts.
I’m not convinced we’ve improved the human condition through technology. I believe something has gone horrifically wrong.
And many in the tech industry are beginning to warn us all of the dangers, like rouge cigarette company employees back in the day.
I started amassing article after article, confession after confession, book after book, podcast after podcast on the subject matter that a busy and distracted life is no life to live. The culprit keeps turning out to be this false concept of multitasking pushed on us by accelerated internet usage. It’s a coherent argument forming by many experts from all kinds of professions and backgrounds.
I’ve never heard someone say, “I’ve just got to get off bananas, they are killing my health.” Or people say “long walks on a summer night in my neighborhood have got to go, they are destroying my productivity.”
I keep hearing though, “I am too busy, too distracted, I can’t put my phone down, how many likes did I get for that last post, what is the latest outrage trending topic right now, oh no I didn’t pick the kids up from soccer practice!”
The concept of not being able to get still and instead becoming overstimulated is not a new issue. What is new is the crushing severity of how our distractions feel at present.
I go back to an article from 2016 penned by Andrew Sulivan, I Used To Be A Human, describing the darkness he fell into being an internet addict. His confessions are profound. As he wrote,
“But then I began to realize, as my health and happiness deteriorated, that this was not a both-and kind of situation. It was either-or. Every hour I spent online was not spent in the physical world. Every minute I was engrossed in a virtual interaction I was not involved in a human encounter. Every second absorbed in some trivia was a second less for any form of reflection, or calm, or spirituality. “Multitasking” was a mirage. This was a zero-sum question. I either lived as a voice online or I lived as a human being in the world that humans had lived in since the beginning of time.”
Confessions coming from people not only suffering the effects like Sullivan, but also from those who helped engineer the distraction machines. Tristan Harris, Jaron Lanier and many tech industry insiders who were part of the inside creation of addictive algorithms and hyper attention grabbing mediums are lining up to apologize and warn as many of us as they can. Which is interesting if the case were social media were merely neutral mediums laying the ground for more connectivity among humans. But the sharp warnings from these human psychology hackers, as Sean Parker Facebook’s first president called himself, can’t be ignored for much longer if the digital world is just the latest printing press to human civilization.
Equally there are the insights and dispatches from those who recognized the need to cut these digital mediums out or never use them to begin with. Here I think of the likes of Cal Newport who’s generationally important books Deep Work and Digital Minimalism are standing as pillars from a computer scientist who found no reason to join social media early and has instead dove head first into creating the best work possible in his life.
I think of Ryan Holiday, modern Stoic, who wrote Stillness Is The Key and addressed the need in his life and all of ours to get to a state of stillness in our lives that is completely opposite from a life lived online scrolling through social media content.
There are neuroscientists, counselors, psychologists, therapists, all serving as professional guides prescribing what initial findings are demonstrating:
Take a pause or get off the social media feeds.
Remove the busy calendar.
Decommit from at least two committees you’re on.
Pause long. Sit still. Contemplate. Meditate.
Slow down and gain back your focus.
This site, Return To Eremos, will be a place designed to do so. To gather research as it continues to accumulate about the mediums accelerating our minds into destructive anxiety. A return to deep work spilling over from our greatest and highest held values.
It was John Mark Comer in his book The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry who gave the imagery of wilderness as a non-scary place but a place designed for the human to retreat to. This wilderness, or desert as the New Testament translates, is the Greek word eremos, and helps provide the namesake for this site.
Returning to the wilderness, or eremos, is more than just a return to the actual wilderness in some sort of desert monk or luddite rejection of technological advancement. Eremos as Comer outlines, also means solitary place, lonely place, quiet place, and wilderness among other descriptors.
My aim here is to continue in the spirit of the work laid out by people like Comer, Newport, Sullivan, who have jump started my own path towards a return to healthy stillness and solitude. At times I’ve felt like Andrew Sullivan, non-human. I’ve realized I’ve nearly all but lost in personal interaction in my life over hyper and frantic paced instant messaging. Most of all I feel the rush and crush it mentality of this era John Mark Comer felt which nearly wiped him out.
This won’t be just a place to berate social media and time wasting. I also aim to help what Cal Newport highly recommends as the alternative, which is to increase focus on your personal values, goals and ambitions. It’s by taking productive life planning and organizing initiatives and implementing them towards achieving goals stemming from your highest held values.
The alternative to this is what I have seen for sometime now in others, but also me.
A loss of focus on what matters most in life. A growing rage of things not tangible, not as tangible as possible to control in one’s life. Sleepless nights filled with anxiety over all the latest articles I read about you name it topic over the past decade. Constant derailing of actual problem solving, as in an actual problem set before me at work or at home, because as soon as I hit a wall, off to the social media dopamine trough I go, or breaking news website I take my coveted attention to.
We need to avoid all that so we can get on with the incredible, amazing things you and I can accomplish in this life we have. And with enough confessions pouring out, mounting books and research on the subject matter of getting back to simplicity or minimalism, there are ample ways for us to head into the Eremos we were designed to function our very bests in. It’s not a lonely wilderness. It certainly is filled with others circled around a campfire.
I aim to become human again like Andrew Sullivan. I hope the same for you as well.