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Carol Orsborn Headshot

Is The Web Stealing Our Old Souls?

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It's first thing in the morning and I'm, once again, at the computer instead of meditating on the bank of the river that runs past our house.

We bought the house because it was my husband's and my dream of how we wanted to use the freedom of aging -- surrounded by beauty, the perfect place to not only process the tasks of moving from the heat of midlife into an older, hopefully mellower age; but also to simply be in the present moment, feeling one with the universe.

Instead, by 8 a.m., I have already been engaged in checking my emails, updating my status on multiple social networks and seeing if my latest book has risen up or down on the Kindle list of bestsellers in the category of aging. As the minutes roll, I'll have followed at least one thread into the heart of the news, probably something upsetting, and perhaps more than one juicy bit of gossip I should be better than about people I neither know nor care about.

Depending on what I discover, by 10 a.m., I may have already felt sadness, anger, smugness, jealousy or frustration along with, of course, hopefully at least a few fun and happy exchanges. While I always intend to get in and out fast, there's always one more thing to read, one more person to catch up with, one more opportunity. Out of politeness or curiosity, I feel obliged to engage in communications with people and organizations with whom "in real life" it would not occur to me to give the time of day.

By 11, it has become apparent that not only have I not meditated first thing in the morning, but the dog hasn't gotten her morning walk, breakfast hasn't been eaten and I somehow find myself still in my pajamas by lunchtime.

I will meditate later today, or at the very least journal or contemplate. But by the time I get there, I will be relating to my psycho-spiritual life the way I have every year since the web took over both my personal and work consciousness, somewhere in the early 2000's. Unhappily, I will not be starting the day at least at neutral and moving somewhere higher up the scale towards transcendent -- but rather, I will be doomed to fight, pray and/or accept all the way up from a deficit back to in the general ballpark.

It's bad enough that I do this to myself, but I also stand amongst the many who have promoted the web as a good thing for us as we age. Only one generation ago, people at midlife and beyond experienced aging as a time of increasing isolation and withdrawal from others outside the home and family. With children out of the home, and no longer connected through work and community involvements, the norm was to watch one's social networks shrink over time.

Boomers are the first aging generation whose networks are actually growing as we age, as we have increased time and access to online communities. The 50+ generation is the linchpin to the highly interconnected life of extended families, on-going friendship groups and outreach to new communities of shared interest.

But I have growing suspicions, based on my own experience and buoyed by some recent books that have crossed my path, that at least some of us have figured out that many of us are having somewhat too much of a good thing. Two books in particular come to mind What Aging Men Want by John C. Robinson and The Wonder of Aging by Michael Gurian.

The point these books make is essentially this: that there are psychological and spiritual benefits to disconnecting from old ways of relating to the world which, one presumes, includes allowing the Internet to call the shots in one's lives. Continuing to operate in what Robinson refers to as "warrior work mode" may actually prevent you "from facing the developmental tasks and opportunities of aging until much later in life, when you may not have the time, energy, or wisdom to benefit from new experiences and lessons... We will not realize the full potential of age if we refuse to leave the war."

Michael Gurian cites the Tao Te Ching to make a similar point about the role of disconnecting in the fulfillment of the human potential. "The wise person shuts his senses, closes all doors, dulls his edges, unties all knots, softens his light, renounces the sources of agitation --this is called the attainment of unity with the One... by renouncing desires, one sees the Secret of all life."

An apocryphal story from the Hindu tradition illustrates the point. As the story goes, Alexander the Great was traveling through India when he saw an old saint sunning himself on the banks of the river.

"How wonderful that looks," said Alexander. "I wish I could sit there beside you and enjoy the day."

"Where are you going?" The saint asked.

"I'm going to fight one more battle and then I will return to join you."

The saint paused a moment, and replied:

"If this is where you want to be in the end, why don't you just skip the battle and join me now?"

Alexander ignored the saint's advice and never did make it back to enjoy the moment.

All this is not to say that the Internet doesn't have value. I love the photos of my grandson, Skyping with my daughter, and catching up with all the news. I enjoy visiting websites like Huffington Post and Beliefnet where I can be inspired and educated and I love running Fierce with Age, the Online Digest of Spirituality and Aging. But I am vowing here and now not to give the first part of my day away to the world any more, becoming reactive to others and giving them power over my life. I don't need to fight even one more battle.

What I need is to start each day open to connecting with a perspective and oneness with what really matters. From now on, instead of heading straight to the computer, I will head directly to the river and at the very least, I will offer the first part of my day to something larger than myself that is neither digital nor wireless.

Paraphrasing Wendell Berry: "There, I will come into the peace of wild things... rest in the grace of the world, and be free."

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