Reaching Grasping Blocking Desire

Written by Charlie Martina

It’s summer 2019. I’m sitting outside an independent café listening to Sunday-esque music with a friend and my dog. My face is glowing; my body is smiling – reacting in blissful thanks to the warm rays of the sun on my cheeks. I feel a light breeze and I’m totally complete.

My friend excuses themselves to go to the bathroom. This is fine, I think to myself. I immediately reach for my phone, play a video I find on my newsfeed, and start rolling a cigarette. I sip hard on the smoothie I ordered, trying not to look anyone directly in the eyes. These actions feel compulsive; I cannot help doing them.

Alarm washes over me as I find myself wondering… why do I need to do this? Why can’t I sit still and just be?

I smile at my dog, looking intently at his beautiful black eyes. He looks back at me with pure love – he even seems to be smiling. He doesn’t need something to stimulate himself, or to block him off from the rest of the world. He’s totally in the moment, and he’s fine with it. He approaches just about anyone with an open heart, and he doesn’t feel uncomfortable when he catches someone’s eye.

I stop myself and put down my phone. I sit quietly and notice the breeze. It’s quite lovely but there is something wrong – a hollow panicky feeling that shakes me to my very core. This shouldn’t be so difficult.

Something changes as I put in less effort and start to let go. I breathe deeply, coming into a deeper state of awareness. The colours and shapes are dazzling, the conversations inspiring, and consciousness becomes a curious and beautiful mystery once more. I take a mental note of some of the things I would have missed if I continued to scroll on my phone and shut off from the world. If I am somewhat distracted most of the time, what else am I missing in my day-to-day life?

I think there are two separate things at play here – although they are linked. First, is our constant need for stimulation. We crave stuff. We want to consume. We desire to be stimulated. For whatever reason, be it natural desires or marketing-induced consumerist tendencies, we long for something.

The second thing at play is how these things we crave put barriers between us and the outside world. We feel slightly insecure, so we compulsively check our phones (or whatever your vice is). The phone (or drink or cigarette or book) acts as a prop, a crutch, or a barrier between us and any potential ‘threat’. I suppose (most of the time) the only ‘real’ threat is a slightly awkward moment. We don’t want to seem like we are ‘just sitting there’… because that’s weird, right? But what is so bad about simply enjoying the moment?

I wonder what has made these actions feel necessary, and why they have become so commonplace. The capitalist nature of society and clever marketing techniques have meant we are a collective defined by consumption. The media has told us to consume, and the additive nature of these things only makes it more difficult to be without them. Perhaps this is why many of us have no option but to swig a beer or text a mate when we’re left sitting alone in public.

Suffice to say, I doubt our ancestors felt as exposed by unfilled time as I do. I doubt they had a problem with just being. Being addicted to technology and consumable goods seems to be a relatively modern phenomenon. However, I do wonder if the insecure feeling we experience has always been there. Did the first people want to put barriers between themselves and others in this way? Or were we more like animals – connected with nature and living fully in the moment?

At first glance, there are certainly worse-sounding issues than checking your phone when your friend’s in the bathroom. However, I still worry about what we might be missing when we don’t learn how to be with ourselves wholly. I don’t just think we miss out on superficial beauties, such as the flowers on a nearby table. I think we might be missing something deeply interesting about the nature of consciousness and fundamental reality. Next time you’re alone in public, see if you can notice anything new.