Almost a year ago to the day, I (the Rabbi) was driving in New Jersey on my way to a funeral. As I was navigating the roads, I diverted my attention to my phone and did not see a car moving into the lane. I missed an accident by a hairbreadth and said a prayer of thanks as I contemplated the tragic consequences of an accident at sixty miles an hour. A momentary decision, one split second, could have led to devastating consequences.
Distracted driving is an American epidemic. People continue doing it because, as risky as it is, most people will reply when asked, “But I have never been in a crash.”
The pervasiveness of distracted driving is endemic of a deeper and broader issue in our personal lives, our families and communities. It is not simply that we are guilty of distracted driving…but of distracted living. Distracted living is when we miss out on much of life because we are not paying attention.
The effect may not be as immediate as a car crash, but they are as invasive as it erodes our relationships with our family members and friends.
It’s not easy. We live in a generation that has many distractions. Even when we try to be focused on the day-to-day, we’re affected by “CPA.” Not “certified public accounting,” but a syndrome we call continuous partial attention. We pay continuous partial attention in an effort not to miss anything—multitasking, surfing the Web, answering our cell phones—yet in the end, we gain nothing.
Mindlessness creeps into our interpersonal relationships and can be destructive. Communication and listening are foundations of a marriage and the parent-child relationship. When we pretend to listen or do not even focus on the other but are distracted on our phones, the relationships decay. With friends, as well, we may hear the words, “You did not call…I never heard from you”—common refrains in a world of busyness—that erode a friendship. It is small actions that cement an enduring relationship.
Distracted living is the product of allowing time to fly by without a sacred sense of the infinite potential within every day. We are all designed for spiritual greatness, but when we are too bombarded by outside noise we fail to heed the small still voice within all of us.
The most important strategy to mindfulness is silence. Find meditative moments every day to lead life with minimal distractions and maximum purpose.
Do not be afraid of silence. Many people are. A University of Virginia study published in July 2014 put hundreds of people in an empty, quiet room alone for 15 minutes. Most participants found it insufferable—25% of women and 67% of men opted to endure painful electric shocks rather than pass the time without any stimulation.
Silence can be a powerful tool for leading a spiritual life.
A story is told about a farmer who misplaced a valuable watch somewhere in his barn. He asked everyone to search up and down to find his precious heirloom. Unfortunately, despite hours spent looking for the timepiece, it was nowhere to be found. Later in the day, a young boy announced to the farmer with great joy that he had found the watch. Astonished, the farmer asked the boy how he was able to find it even though so many others had searched high and low without finding it. The boy responded, “Well, once the barn was quiet, I put my head to the ground and heard the watch ticking.” We may only hear our inner voice when we turn off the outside world.
Find the courage to liberate yourself from the daily tyranny of technology—the mobile phone, the laptop and all the other electronic intruders. At lunches or dinners, make sure all phones are away from the table so everyone can be fully present.
Silence is not about listening to nothing. It’s about listening to everything.
Be mindful of the moment before you right now. It is the secret not only to safe driving but living fully aligned with our life purpose. All we have is this one day and this one hour.
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