[percy-l] Fwd: Can You Prove You're Not a Machine?

J Rivas-Pita juliorivas at gmail.com
Thu Jan 13 05:59:48 EST 2005

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: J Rivas-Pita <juliorivas at gmail.com>
Date: Thu, 13 Jan 2005 06:58:17 -0400
Subject: Can You Prove You're Not a Machine?
To: buddhistpsychotherapy at yahoogroups.com,
mindfulnesstherapies at yahoogroups.com, J R <kodomin at hotmail.com>, Pablo
<metalgott at gmail.com>, Jaime Nubiola <jnubiola at unav.es>,
"chaslow53 at aol.com" <chaslow53 at aol.com>, "Percy-L: Literary and
Philosophical Discussion" <percy-l at lists.ibiblio.org>, Kenneth Ketner
<kenneth.ketner at ttu.edu>, David O'Hara <dlo129 at psu.edu>, Frances
Catherine Kelly <frances.kelly at sympatico.ca>, kirstima at saunalahti.fi


Can You Prove You're Not a Machine?
By: Tova Bernbaum

Recently, I was browsing the news stories on the CNN website when I was struck
by a particular headline in the technology section. It asked a simple question:
"Can You Prove You're Not a Machine?" The words caught my attention because I
had been asking myself the very same thing, and I wasn't really sure I could
answer in the affirmative.

In the old days, it seemed like we were always asked the opposite question. In
high school, the biology assignment was to prove that a car is not a living
organism, or to examine a manila envelope containing a mystery object and
ascertain by the weight and movement whether the contents were inanimate or not.
But modern life has turned the question inward: are we really alive? Are human
beings that different from the technology that serves them? Do we bring anything
meaningful to the lives we lead, or are our physical and material needs forcing
us into daily routines that feel more and more mechanical?

We can be forgiven for wondering from time to time. The rat race can often make
life feel remote and monotonous. Society puts a lot of pressure on the average
man or woman to earn a good living, to obtain that picturesque house in the
suburbs, to acquire all kinds of material possessions -- in short, to live up to
the American Dream. These are not unworthy goals, per se, but the tireless quest
to achieve them can create a void in spirituality, and that void can quickly
turn the quest into a robotic chore.

Of course, like all good consumerist societies, we have various answers to
modern man's existential crises: self-help books, weekend retreats,
enlightenment seminars. One day, when I was feeling down about the humdrum
monotony of my daily life, I decided to seek out one of the latest therapeutic
tools: the meditation room.

I found one tucked away in Soho, in a quiet building designed to give students
or office workers a brief respite of calm reflection in the midst of chaotic
city life. The windowless room smelled of incense and had no chairs, so I sat
down on one of the floor pillows and prepared to unburden myself of earthly
concerns. I was going to drink in the elixir of enlightenment, to taste the
freedom of a mind unfettered by daily worry.

But the moment I closed my eyes, I suddenly felt extremely claustrophobic. It
wasn't just the lack of air circulating, or the fact that the room's only other
occupant seemed more sinister than serene. It was the very idea of a meditation
room that really unnerved me. Confining spirituality to a single airless room
just seemed so suffocating.

And then I realized that perhaps that had been my problem all along. Maybe
that's the problem a lot of us have. We feel like machines because on some level
we function like them. We compartmentalize the different aspects of our lives
and think that they can each work separately from one another. The office is
where we act as our professional, task-driven, and often more boring selves.
After hours, we get to feel like our "real selves" by having fun and engaging in
meaningful relationships. G-d, or meaning, or spirituality -- or whatever we
call it -- is something we do on the weekends or on our lunch break, if there's
enough time. Our lives are not necessarily unfulfilled, but they are
disconnected, because there's no unifying meaning bringing all the pieces

But it doesn't have to be that way. If we could only realize that there's
holiness in all aspects of our day, then maybe we would feel less like machines
and more like the human beings that we are. We don't need meditation rooms to
feel spiritual; there's meaning in the seat we give up for a stranger on the
subway, in the dollar we drop in a homeless man's coffee cup, in the
conversations we have with coworkers, in the silent moments we share with the
people we love, in the poetry written on the sidewalk, in the shadows the
streetlights cast on our bedroom walls at night.

If G-dliness exists in the little things, then all we really need is a bit of
string to tie them together.

- Tova Bernbaum is a freelance writer living in the Crown Heights section of
Brooklyn, New York.

(To view this article on the Web or to post a comment, please click here:

Be Happy! (Fr. Benito Ballesteros, OSB, 1924-1996)
Sé feliz! (P. Benito Ballesteros, OSB, 1924-1996)

Be Happy! (Fr. Benito Ballesteros, OSB, 1924-1996)
Sé feliz! (P. Benito Ballesteros, OSB, 1924-1996)

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