By Rosie Perera | November 20, 2011 at 1:17 am
Yesterday I wrote about mindfulness on the computer and a new clock app I’d discovered to help me with that. Today I was introduced to the word nepsis, the hesychastic practice of perpetually guarding and watching over the heart, lest the passions (“the sinful inclinations, movements, or energies within a human”) rule over us and distract us from the contemplative experience. (1) I realized that that’s precisely what I’m trying to do with being more mindful at the computer. I began to wonder whether anyone has written anything linking Orthodox spirituality, hesychia, nepsis, with the distractions of technology.
My wondering was rewarded by this excerpt from Spiritual Instruction and Discourses, Vol I: The Authentic Seal by Archimandrite Aimilianos: “Orthodox Spirituality and the Technological Revolution”
He argues that there isn’t anything essentially different about today’s technology, in its effect on our spiritual life, than there ever has been. Technology per se is not the problem. Rather it is the “absence of accountability in the way in which technology is administered and exploited.” He reviews the historical development of technology as “the fruit of the reasoning and intellect of Man, who was formed in the image of God.” He looks to the monastic tradition to find appropriate models for how to keep technology in check. He points out that “the Church and monasticism are not hostilely disposed towards technological progress. On the contrary, monks over the centuries have proved to be powerful agents of scientific and technical invention.” Finally he explains that Basil the Great outlined two criteria for the use of technology:
1) restraint – Technology is “necessary in itself to life and provides many facilities.” It is not harmful to peace and tranquility, unity, and undistracted devotion to the Lord, provided it is used with “moderation and simplicity.”
2) spiritual vigilance – Spiritual vigilance, taking time to “pray, to concentrate and cast off the cares of the world” helps people “stave off the disastrous effects of the technological society” in which they become “consumers and slaves to images and information, which fill their lives.”
If we can use technology that helps us practice more restraint and spiritual vigilance, I’m all for it. I do think ClockSmith Lite which I wrote about yesterday, and Timetrek, which I’ve also started using, will help me in that direction. Timetrek is a free personal time clock app. You can punch in and punch out when you start/end work on any project, so it can track the time you spend on each project. I’m using it to track how much time I’m spending in total on the computer each day. Today I’m at just over four and a half hours, which is less than normal, and I have ClockSmith Lite and Timetrek to thank. Not only am I pausing to pray a short breath prayer each quarter of an hour, I’m also taking a complete break away from the computer after every hour of accumulated time. And once I begin a break away from the screen, the draw to come back is less, so I can get some exercise, do some contemplation, read, or do something else for a while. Normally, when I’m glued to the screen, I have a really hard time weaving any of those other things into my day. It’s only been one day of these new practices so far, but I am already quite encouraged.
(1) Edmund J. Rybarczyk, Beyond Salvation: Eastern Orthodoxy and Classical Pentecostalism on Becoming Like Christ, Paternoster Theological Monographs (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2004), 39.
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