Today, we have become ‘human doings’ maybe even more than human beings.
The rise of technology created a second tier of demands in addition to what we already have to do. While ironic, the technology we invented to save us time usually ends up taking more of it from us. Tech has created a second job for a lot of people.
We have to work, study, commute, take kids where they need to go, run our errands, address whatever comes up with grace and poise…but then, we also have to answer emails, return calls, create digital work all while the magical devices in our pocket or on our wrist buzz and ping, demanding our attention.
They beg for us to spend a few minutes scrolling social media or the news. Oftentimes, we lose a lot of precious time by trading our attention for stimulus.
When we feel bored or lacking purpose, we fill our mind with things that give us a little hit of happiness. The chemical behind that is dopamine. The dopamine receptors in our brains don’t know reality from illusion.
Pausing whatever we’re doing to watch videos of bulldogs skateboarding seems pretty harmless, but that hit of dopamine from watching is changing how our brains work. We end up needing more silly videos, social media “likes” or hits of digital candy to improve our mood. The trouble is — we pile on the dopamine without the life-stress that usually comes with it.
Balancing struggle with reward
Training balances real, physical demands with a wonderful rush of that good stuff in our brains, and it makes us genuinely happy. When we use digital devices to manufacture the happy drugs without the life stuff that goes with it, we become out-of-balance.
We’re all happy drug with no corresponding stimulus. Our brains aren’t talking to our bodies the way they used to. The way they were meant to. The result is we crave something.
This doesn’t come free of consequence. Being plugged in all the time has an effect on us. We live in the best place and time in human history to exist, yet more people report feeling anxious, depressed, stressed or maybe even suicidal. We are drowning in information and starving for knowledge.
What we end up with a kind of dementia. Sometimes depression. Oftentimes distraction. All of it is digital.
Reconnecting with ourselves
Whenever we are on the mat, we have an opportunity to reconnect with ourselves and others in a meaningful way. We tuck our distractions safely in our bags. No phone calls. No emails. No urgency. Just training.
This makes training sacred. During training time, we can only focus on what we see in front of us — on the people in front of us. The more we do it, the more the chattering monkey between our ears craving that digital dopamine goes quiet. Even when sparring, our minds become still. We leave feeling better.
As athletes, we consistently monitor what we put into our body. We avoid too much sugar or alcohol. We may cut weight and really watch what we eat. We might even go so far as to pay attention to where something comes from, or how and with what it was made.
We would do well to watch what we put in our minds too. We mindlessly consume a lot of mental junk food. If you’re like me, it just adds to the noise.
Training becomes the lazy person’s Zen. The monkey-mind quiets down. It has to. When training we focus completely on the moment in front of us, and we let our thoughts come and go without dwelling on them.
There is no Zen on a mat except the Zen you bring there, but it becomes a great place to discover what you’ve brought.
With a little practice, paying attention to what may be happening around us as well as inside of us can really add to our training. The two can’t separate anyway. Wherever we go, our brains go with us.
Training gives us a chance to allow our brains and bodies work together. If you haven’t yet, come train. You might find it’s a lot quieter and still than just watching.
Header image by Greg Streech.