Unplugged Realities

Ajahn Karuṇadhammo • November 2013

I recently came back from a one-week visit to Tisarana Monastery in Ottawa, Canada to help them celebrate their kaṭhina ceremony. During this time I did a lot of traveling and spent some time in airports. While I was en route I noticed the alarming amount of people who were plugged into to one or another type of mobile device, either a smartphone, tablet, or laptop. It was interesting to observe them as each person seemed to be plugged into their own separate spheres or realities. They weren’t interacting with others around them and seemed quite oblivious to what was happening in their surroundings.

One man I observed was conducting his business before boarding the plane. I watched him as he made several calls and did business over the phone. He would talk, conclude a conversation, and begin another one. It occurred to me how internally caught up he was in this reality of his, this sphere of a world he created. As the announcements for the plane departure began, it seemed that there was this subtle attention off in one corner of his mind and he was able to be in touch with the fact that he was about to board the plane. When it was his turn to board, he rose up but continued to speak on the phone, conducting business up until the very last point that he sat down on the plane and had to put his phone away.

I reflected upon this and thought about how, without cell phones or portable computers, we do much of the same thing here in the monastery. It is so easy to get caught up into our own realities and dwell in these separate spheres, absorbed in what we think is some permanent condition of the mind. We can get fixated upon some idea, mind state, or concern we have and not really see that it is a changing phenomena. It could be something like a health concern or some interaction we have with someone, and we believe this reality is all that exists for us. Our thoughts can revolve around this world to the degree that we are unable to see outside of this closed perspective or view.

Then, without even noticing it, some action outside of us or something someone says, completely distracts us from this world we have become so absorbed in, and we are reborn into this new world without even remembering what we were so obsessed with just moments ago. This new reality becomes the focus of attention in a way that can prevent us from seeing this entire process. It’s as if we are jumping from one world to the next with no fixed point of reference. We can be blown around by our feelings, thoughts, and preoccupations about these insubstantial experiences.

Even right now, as I end this talk, we are all going to get up, begin cleaning dishes, and prepare for the work period. This will be a completely different experience from what we are having right now. If we can be aware of this changing of worlds and not get so caught up with it, then we have the opportunity to see this blinding process and wake up to the understanding that there is something outside of our very fixed perspectives. We can learn to expand the view and have a spaciousness that can encompass our experiences from a much broader context. By doing this, we allow ourselves to see things quite differently, from a less absorbed and less self-focused point of view. When we expand the view like this, we have the opportunity to see how our minds are moving from one reality to the next, creating world after world. We can step back from that process and watch it from a centered but detached point of view. When this occurs, there is the possibility of stopping, ending this cycle of world hopping, and opening ourselves up to the reality of our present experiences.