While walking the streets of Jerusalem on Friday, I noticed flyers for a local high school play called “Attraction to Distraction.” The graphic depicts two teenage girls, standing in front of each other, but busily texting on their cell phones. Having just written about distraction the night before it didn’t take me long to realize that this advertisement had just inspired another article.
In order to better appreciate what it means to be addicted to distraction, I thought it best to travel back to a time before smart phones, SMS and Facebook. While the methods of distraction have become more commonplace, the attraction to distraction is nothing new.
When I was a boy of about ten, I visited a water park with my summer camp. Although I didn’t know how to swim, I decided to go into the wave generating pool, committing myself to stay in the shallow end. But quickly, the thrill and excitement of experiencing bigger waves took hold, and I started walking slowly towards the deeper end. Suddenly, a wave sent me under the water and into a state of panic. I thought to myself: why had I ventured forward so far? Grasping for something to push off of to get closer to the ledge, after a few long seconds, a fellow camper happened to be swimming by. I quickly pushed off his shoulders and on to safety. Not knowing why I had interrupted his play time, he was upset and me, and the lifeguard nearby was totally unaware of what just transpired. Unable to explain the events, I kept quiet.
I tell this story because what led me to press on that day is what leads many of us to tread in the dangerous waters of the internet today. While we begin in the shallow area, by the time we realize, we are already swept up by the current. Although in front a computer, the risk of drowning is no less dangerous.
This cycle of events repeated itself many times in my life, especially during adolescence and young adulthood. What was a physical danger as a child quickly turned into spiritual dangers. But while the internet presented a “clear and present danger,” talk of abstaining from it weren’t compelling.
What do I mean? While it took me many years to learn this, when trying to wean someone away from an addiction, the first step according to chassidus is to first understand the core root of the addiction, then present the opposite expression of this attraction within the realm of holiness. For instance, some weeks ago I was asked for a suggestion in how to encourage a Jewish girl who was then in an ashram in India, to return to her roots. My suggestion was that she should travel to one of the Chabad rabbis there trained in Rabbi Ginsburgh’s system of meditation. As she is looking for a meditative system, she needed to be presented with the counterpart within the realm of holiness.
While AA, Alcoholics Anonymous, now primarily promotes abstinence, the conceptual start of the program is best depicted in these words from psychologist Carl Jung, written to Bill Wilson, co-founder of AA, about Rowland H.:
“His craving for alcohol was the equivalent, on a low level, of the spiritual thirst of our being for wholeness …: the union of God.”
From the above we can begin to see that the question is not why we are distracted, but being that many in this generation are distracted by the internet–even so far as to wade into treacherous waters–our obligation then is expose the core root of the attraction in the hopes of publicizing the cure.