Archive for September, 2011

Return of the Electronic Jesuit

Posted in Agathos, Go, Philosophy, Stoicism with tags , , , , on September 24, 2011 by Joe Callahan

A few months back I wrote a piece about my personal and high-tech adaptation (philosophical rather than religious) of a practice called the Examen. Briefly, this is a practice that I first learned about from the Jesuits. It is simply pausing at a certain time of the day and taking stock of how you are behaving and acting relative to your beliefs, ethics, standards, etc.. It is an opportunity to do a spot check on being Agathos (my chosen term not theirs). My big tech adaptation of this practice was to set the tinny sounding alarm on my cell phone to noon and 5 pm so that when the alarm went off I paused and took stock of the day thus far.

A couple of weeks ago I made a bold leap in my use of technology. I had a credit towards a new phone and so I took my five year old cell (I’m told this is an antique by the standards of gadget lovers) and upgraded to a Droid phone. For the first two days I was convinced this device was designed purely to raise blood pressure and enslave the human spirit. The goal was clearly to reduce us all to crazed social networking junkies staring at tiny little screens forever lost in electronic narcissism. I got over it. I’ve come to really like the fact that this little pocket computer frees me from my desk. That’s nice since I work alone from a home office and its good to actually leave and see the world now and then.

I will eat your soul. By the way, you have a text message.

In addition to an app for playing Go, thus allowing me to continue getting my butt kicked anytime anyplace, I discovered that the alarms allowed me to add sounds! Now when noon and 5 pm roll around I no longer hear the annoying little beep beep beep. Instead, I hear the serene sound of a temple bell tolling. Ahhhh, I am whisked away to some Zen temple amongst the pines on a mountainside. Not really. But it is much nicer than hearing something like a warning for cabin depressurization or the need to summon a nurse. There is something to be said for aesthetics. I do enjoy that when it goes off in public people don’t get that “some jerk has an alarm going off” expression. Instead they look around confused like they are expecting monks to appear and summon them to chop wood, carry water. Some of them look like they wish it were true.

So has this pleasant gift of technology made any difference in my practice of the Examen? Nah. I do find that, regardless of ringtone, the experiment with this practice has been a positive. I’d like to say that every time the temple bells sound out that I determine all is right with my day. Of course that isn’t the case. But I do find that it causes me to stop and note where things are going awry with behavioral patterns that are not Agathos, that are not in keeping with a rational human character and that are not in harmony with nature. Additionally, it will sometimes occur to me that it must be drawing near noon or five o’clock and so there is a kind of preemptive Examen that happens before the digital Quasimodo starts pulling on the rope. This helps to keep a level of mindfulness through the day. That alone makes it a useful practice.

I will continue with the Droid Examen routine though there is room for improvement. Often my Examen is rather vague. It gets to be noon and I think “Well I don’t seem to be doing anything too badly. That’s nice” and on I go. It may be more effective to set some goals like “Today I will observe where I let attachment and desire cloud judgment” and be more focused when I stop to take my measure. Or that may prove to be too nitpicky. I’ll report the results of further experimentation. Maybe I’ll try a cool new alarm too.