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How to reduce digital distractions: advice from medieval monks - Jamie Kreiner | Aeon Ideas

A method for concentrating

Nuns, monks, preachers and the people they educated were to visualize the material they were processing. A branchy tree or a finely feathered angel. The images might loosely correspond to the substance of an idea.

The point was to give the mind something to draw, to indulge its appetite for interesting forms while sorting its ideas into some logical structure.

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How to reduce digital distractions: advice from medieval monks - Jamie Kreiner | Aeon Ideas

How to reduce digital distractions: advice from medieval monks - Jamie Kreiner | Aeon Ideas

https://aeon.co/ideas/how-to-reduce-digital-distractions-advice-from-medieval-monks

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Key Ideas

Medieval monks

Medieval monks had a hard time concentrating while they were supposed to focus on divine communication: to read, to pray and sing, and to work to understand God.

The ideal was a mind that was always and actively reaching out to its target by working hard at making the mind behave. The monks found it easier to concentrate when their bodies were moving, whether they were baking or farming.

A method for concentrating

Nuns, monks, preachers and the people they educated were to visualize the material they were processing. A branchy tree or a finely feathered angel. The images might loosely correspond to the substance of an idea.

The point was to give the mind something to draw, to indulge its appetite for interesting forms while sorting its ideas into some logical structure.

The problem of concentration

Any plan for sidestepping distractions calls for strategies on sidestepping distraction.

It is a fantasy to think that we can dodge distraction once and for all. There will always be exciting things to create distraction for the mind.

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A slow change from home to office
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  • Before the modern office, monasteries introduced timekeeping to the monk's daily routines.
  • Later, the office was understood to be a factory-like environment.
  • Work was depicted as a series of tasks that could be rationalised, standardised and calculated into an efficient production machine.
How changes in technology influenced the office
  • The telegraph, telephone, and dictating machine changed the concept of work and office design as telecommunications meant office could be separate from factories and warehouses and differentiate between white and blue-collar workers.
  • While these technologies made a distributed workforce possible, American offices became more centralised.
  • Online connectivity potentially ensures a move away from the office to working from home.

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The cultural backdrop

For most of recorded history, people got married for logical pragmatic sorts of reasons.

Since around 1750, we have been living in an era in the history of love that we can call Romanticism w...

The Romantic template
  • Romanticism tells us that a long-term marriage can have all the excitement of a love affair.
  • Romanticism proposed that true love must mean an end to all loneliness.
  • Romanticism believed that choosing a partner should be about letting oneself be guided by feelings, rather than practical considerations.
  • Romanticism believes that true love is synonymous with accepting everything about someone.
The Romantic script is delusional

It's normative points include:

  • we should meet a person of extraordinary inner and outer beauty and immediately feel a special attraction to them, and they to us
  • we should understand one another intuitively
  • we don’t need an education in love
  • we should have no secrets and spend constant time together
  • we should raise a family without any loss of intensity
  • our lover must be our soulmate, best friend, co-parent, co-chauffeur, accountant, household manager and spiritual guide

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Christians marriage ceremonies in the Middle Age
Christians marriage ceremonies in the Middle Age

In the Middle Age, Christians did not need to marry inside of the church: whenever they came to the consent over the union, they could get married anywhere.

The difficult part was proving ...

Getting married as a minor of age

In the Middle Age, one only needed to have reached the age for puberty in order to be able to get married.

Furthermore, the parents' approval was not even necessary. However, rules like asking for your landlord's consent or marrying only persons from the same class were given a lot of importance.

Consent to get married

Back in the Middle Age, the consent to get married could be either verbal or physical. Sexual intercourse counted as physical consent.

On the other hand, giving your word to marry somebody or offering a gift to that person, even without having a sexual relationship, would also lead to marriage.

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Mindfulness is a great exercise

... for learning to accept how we feel and break the habit of worry.

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Worry and bad problem-solving

Worry is an attempt to mentally problem-solve something that either isn’t really a problem or isn’t a problem that’s solvable.

And while problem solving is typically helpful in our lives, worry is just a waste of time and energy if we know it can’t actually produce any results.

Worry is like junk food

Just like the body craves calories, the mind craves control. In fact, we can fool our minds into thinking we’re actually solving a problem by running it over and over and over again in our minds. And to make things worse, like junk food, worry also happens to be constantly available, dirt cheap, and instantaneous.

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One of the reasons why Stoicism is enjoying a revival today is that it gives concrete answers to moral questions.
Aristotle gave us an alternative conception of happiness

It cannot be acquired by pleasurable experiences but only by identifying and realizing our own potential, moral and creative, in our specific environments, with our particular family, friends and colleagues, and helping others to do so. 

See and observe

It is important to both see and to observe. As Holmes told Dr Watson: “You see, but you do not observe,”

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Why mindfulness is so important to us

Over the past several decades, researchers have discovered

  • Mindfulness can lead to improvements in physiological well-being and emotional regulation.
  • Mindfulness can even enhance our levels of wisdom, both in terms of dialectism (being cognizant of change and contradictions in the world) and intellectual humility (knowing your own limitations)
  • Mindfulness can lead to improved problem solving, enhanced imagination, and better decision making.
Mindfulness is good against inattentional blindness

When we focus on one particular element in a situation or problem, our brains can cause all the other elements to ‘disappear', so that we will have no conscious experience of having ever been exposed to them.

Inattentional blindness illustrates the limitations of our attentional abilities. We can’t ever multitask the way we think we can. Something will get lost. 

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The imposter

True mindfulness has been spoiled by an imposter. The imitation provides an excuse to be self-centered and self-indulgent. It promises health and spiritual purity.

Definition of mindfulness

Mindfulness is the nonjudgemental awareness of the richness, subtlety and variety of the present moment, not just of the self. It is not the same as meditation, although meditation can form part of it.

Mindfulness acknowledges every moment of existence, good and bad. It is used to stand still in the moment, reflect and gain perspective.

Mindfulness is a limited tool

Gazing inward to focus on a connection with yourself cannot deliver magical benefits. Acknowledging your thoughts is not the same as cherishing them.

While mindfulness has some usefulness, we should also realize the benefits when we lose self-awareness, for example when we are in a state of flow.

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Exercise is a  movement of the body to enhance physical fitness. 

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Decrease in Human Strength

Historic evidence suggests that for many thousands of years, human beings were more active and stronger than today. 

The early humans had increased movement and activity, like going for long and tiring hunts, walking long distances that took weeks, making the prehistoric humans fitter than the best athletes today.

Technology as the Culprit

Technological breakthroughs have reduced our activity to a great extent ( vacuum cleaners, washer-dryers, self-cleaning ovens, and even cars).

The rise of the internet gave us a whole lot of technology, curbing our need to move even more.

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About willpower
  • Most people think of self-discipline in terms of willpower only, which is wrong.
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Natural instincts
  • Disciplining people through shame and guilt works well in society, and natural impulses/ instincts being suppressed by religion and philosophers.
  • The curbing of our natural instincts is a method employed to protect us from our over-indulgence and from our own natural desires.

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