Reflecting on Distractions

November 20, 2014

After two weeks at Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery in the redwoods of California, I find myself disconnected from the world. Not the real world, mind you – not the one filled with green fields, snow-capped mountains, and blue rivers – but the one in which everyone is obsessed with getting the fastest wifi and burying their faces in iPhones as they walk down a crowded street.

It’s fair to say I’ve struggled with moderation. When it comes to food, my dopamine levels spike. My addiction to finding the best cupcakes aside, it’s a miracle I don’t weigh 200 kg and find the strength to get to work each day. But it’s more than simply enjoying delicious meals; it’s being aware of all the opportunities I have available to me, as someone with a little bit of cash in a country that allows you to buy anything at any time.

If I want something, I can bus or drive to a number of stores that are sure to have it. If I’m too lazy to go out, I can enter my credit card number and click a button to receive instant gratification. It’s a good thing I’m not predisposed to coffee, drugs, alcohol, or tobacco, because I’d likely end up a caffeine-fueled drunken addict with bad lungs.

My weaknesses have evolved over the years, but sugar is probably the biggest threat. From as early as I can remember to my university years, I added Quik powder to 2% milk with a flourish of a spoon and had my fix. In fact, I’d say coming to Japan was the only thing that successfully broke that habit, as I recall a bout of withdrawal in addition to the discomfort of adjusting to a new environment. Alongside chocolate milk, Coca-Cola and Dr. Pepper were with me until last year; after being deathly ill in Peru, I vowed to give up anything that contributed to my dehydration and general lack of pep.

As comforting as it was to see DP on the shelves of the local market – this helped me through my time in Japan and Korea – I was feeling so lousy something had to give. In a way, it’s harder to break one’s habits abroad. Despite the lack of familiarity in brand names, people, and customs, when expats do see something familiar, we latch on and indulge in a way we never would have back home. Why else would we become “friends” with most native English speakers we come across? Or shop in import stores to get Canadian maple cream cookies and real cheese?

I’ve gotten a little sidetracked; my point in all of this is learning to accept what I need to be comfortable, but not indulgent, whether that means food, accommodation, Internet, or TV. The truth is there’s no reason why I should be watching as much TV as I do – CSI, The Big Bang Theory, Bones, SVU… they’re all so cliche and stupid – or wasting time online finding new ways to distract myself. Nor should I consume three huge meals a day when one or two might do just as well. It’s so difficult to remember that when options are everywhere, and screaming at me to BUY BUY BUY… WATCH THIS… EAT THAT… NOW. And it’s incredibly depressing when I find myself ordering at Starbucks just to pass the time; not only have I wasted money which could be used to fund adventures, but also resources like milk, cocoa beans, paper, and plastic. Some things which would not have been used had I simply kept my desires in check.

The solution isn’t simply escaping to another country where my options are limited (in fact, with online ordering, this seldom makes a difference), but learning to be content with what I have, curbing my spending habits, and not being subject to the whims of the Internet. I survived without access to email or YouTube for two weeks. Now to make it months.

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