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The elusive bliss of 'ish'

BY WILLIAM MOYERS Modified: January 14, 2013 at 10:26 am •  Published: January 14, 2013
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At a hideaway spot where the lush jungle meets Mexico's Pacific coast, I stumbled upon something I had not known before. Not the Holy Grail, the Fountain of Youth or nirvana, though what I encountered probably leads to them. I found the land of "ish."

As in, "We'll convene for yoga at 5:30-ish." "I hear it might be cloudy-ish tomorrow." "Whatever I'm eating tastes veggie-ish." And that group singalong of "Hey Jude"? It wasn't Paul on lead vocals, but it sounded "Beatles-ish" nonetheless.

"Ish" was the issue where I was, on a yoga retreat in Sayulita. That's because for eight whole days, I was completely disconnected from the rest of my world. No Internet. No Facebook. No Google alerts. No cellphone. No relentless stream of email or voice mail or text messages. Not even the reliably staid portals of radio, television and the printed word of a newspaper or a clock to tell time.

The day began when the sun rose and ended by the light of oil lamps after dark, and in between, nothing interrupted or influenced my life except what I embraced from the soothing sounds of the surf, birds in the jungle, yoga and newly minted friendships of my fellow retreaters.

And mainly my own thoughts, of which I had many. Because suddenly, I wasn't under the influence of the stimulant of stimulants, my drug of no choice: technology.

On this trip, I discovered how this techno-drug has robbed me of the ability to pay attention to what's happening in my own heart and soul, just as it has hijacked my appreciation for what is outside, all around me. Technology has hot-wired my brain to think differently.

In the ramp-up to the day, it is as essential as a cup of coffee, a shower, a clean shave and brushing my teeth. Without it, I cannot keep pace with the unfolding race through the day. Paradoxically, it allows me to get more done than ever before, though never enough to turn it off completely for more than a few hours at a time — and then only at night.

Once upon a time, I relied on technology.

Now I've been irradiated by it to the point that I'm utterly powerless and totally dependent. No longer do I live with my smartphone and laptop; I live through them. My hardware and software aren't lifelines; they're anchors.

Like the rest of my species, I quickly am evolving from a human being into a human doing, because technology makes "ish" impossible. It has wiped out the space in our lives. There is no wiggle room, ambiguity or respite anymore. No free time.

I came to this conclusion three days into my acute withdrawal from the techno-drug. One morning, suddenly and without warning, I found myself intimately immersed in my long-lost inner child.

Actually, it wasn't that deep. I was in Extended Child's Pose, a posture that must have been designed for yoga newbies, like me, who struggle with Warrior Two, much less handstands.

While everyone else was twisting and turning and stretching and breaking a sweat, I lay facedown on the yoga mat on the floor, head comfortably nestled between my folded knees like a child at naptime in school.

Then I had that moment of clarity so rare that when it happens it is never forgotten (and usually ends up in a column like this): "Hey, I've been techno-drug-free for a couple of days now. This feels great. When I get back, I've got to write about this so others will realize they're not alone. There is hope."

But between then and now, I relapsed. At 33,000 feet, just after the captain announced we had left Mexico and crossed into U.S. airspace, I fired up my dormant computer and began surfing the Internet. Waiting for me were 390 work and personal emails, a train of voice messages and enough online articles about politics, sports and the weather to keep me high for the rest of the flight — and beyond.

I haven't known "ish" since I got home. But at least I'm not in denial. My name is William, and I am a techno-aholic.

William Moyers is the vice president of public affairs and community relations for the Hazelden Foundation and the author of "Broken," his best-selling memoirs. His new book, "Now What? An Insider's Guide to Addiction and Recovery," was published in October. Please send your questions to William Moyers at wmoyers@hazelden.org. To find out more about William Moyers and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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