Saturday, June 6, 2009

Self-Mastery & Gadgets

Those who know me know that I love technology! Although I have been formally removed from the world of software development for nearly ten years, my hunger for new technology has not dissipated in the least. Like Moore’s Law which states that technology roughly doubles every 18 months, my desire for a new gadget intensifies almost proportionately to that law. While I think it is safe to say I’m exaggerating my gadget addiction, I do want to recognize a potential disproportionate desire for new technology at times. I typically rationalize my longing through my deeper desire for organization. Anything that helps me quantify every aspect of my daily life is incredibly alluring! After all, the more I can use technology to quantify things (including myself) the more I will be able to know myself better and be more responsible, right? Such a belief almost makes my disproportionate desire for technology a noble quest. Believe it or not, it wasn’t until last week that a pin-leak was discovered in this inflated rationality of mine which is soon to become a full-blown flat.

The error in my thinking was revealed shortly after a grueling run with a friend of mine who is currently on summer break from seminary. For the sake of my friend, I must admit that it was a grueling run for me and not him. As we were walking back to our cars I brought up the topic of my new fancy running watch which records about everything you could possibly record about yourself and the surrounding landscape. He then told me about a mutual friend of ours who is currently a cross country runner for CU and an active member of our campus ministry. He explained to me how this runner begins every race deliberately in the “back of the pack.” Basically, what he does is take inventory of himself, the landscape, and the surrounding runners before engaging the race with intensity, and he doesn’t do this by a gadget but through self-evaluation and observation. He has trained himself to translate accurately the breathing patterns of himself and others. The student can quickly determine if his body is starting to go anaerobic thus enabling himself to make the proper corrections almost instantaneously. Hearing all this was both breathtaking and humbling!

Up until this point of the conversation, I had thought that my constant connectivity to gadgets was only aiding my quest for self-mastery through accurate knowledge, planning, et cetera. What I quickly learned was that I really did not know myself like I thought I knew myself. One may easily make the excuse that as long as you are in tune with your soul, you are doing well, but that is bad theology. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that the body was created as the form of the soul. In other words, our soul and body are so intimately tied together that what you learn about the body can lead to knowledge about the soul and vice versa. This runner’s intimate knowledge of his body can easily be translated into virtue of the soul!

Take for instance the student’s ability to gauge his physical heart incredibly well during a run. Having the ability to modify his pace correctly given the slightest change in the rhythm of his heart offers him the opportunity to run efficiently, giving his best each time. One can only assume that such self-awareness is equally present off the trail as it is on the trail. How much more is the runner able to perceive physiological stimuli that are heading toward temptation well before the temptation becomes enticing? While the phrase “listen to your body” may sound too new aged to some, it is deeply Catholic!

We live in a plugged-in world. Everywhere I go I see people plugged into laptops, cell phones, and ipods. While technology is a great gift, it also can be an enormous impediment to knowing oneself. The impediment largely comes in the form of only knowing two dimensions of ourselves: zero and sixty miles per hour. Unfortunately, we are plugged in during those times when we move from 10 to 20 mph which consequently doesn’t register on the radar screen. I would like to challenge all of us to unplug ourselves a little more from the distractions that may be preventing us from knowing ourselves. This is a hard challenge to offer since I’m arguably the most plugged in among us. Our bodies are all too often against us; it is with excitement that I’m able to see a profound way for our bodies to work for us by drawing us deeply into our spiritual lives, further enabling us to give ourselves to another through the art of self-mastery and virtue! May God be Praised!


Ryan said...

Spot on Matt.. I bet that CU runner also doesn't train with much use of gadgets either. Without knowing how you feel during training you will never be able to have that mastery during the race. MP3 players and constantly checking your watch just distract from being tuned into your body. This does translate very well into soul training. There aren't any relationship gadgets out there with God or anyone else.

Matt Boettger said...

You wouldn't happen to be Ryan Hall now would you?? ;-) Ha-ha. Thanks for the comment!