America is probably the most extreme example of a speed-driven culture—and this is not my particular personal discovery, but something that has been said to me by many people from other traditional cultures. The first time this was said to me was when I was 19 and I went to Japan. Western people are running from themselves and they use the busy-ness of their lives as an excuse to avoid having to actually live their own life. We are terrified of who we actually are, terrified of the inner space that is the basis of the human experience.
We are actually incapable of being alone—of any work that requires genuine solitude, without entertainment, that requires making a connection with the silence of the inner being. The American family engineers a life in which there is never any time alone, where we never have to actually talk to each other. Even dinnertime is around the TV, at best—or we’re just grabbing something at McDonald’s.
But it’s not the larger culture. It’s actually us. It’s me and it’s you. We load our life up to the point where it’s about to snap. And when you ask someone to sit down and be with themselves they go, “I can’t. I don’t have time for that.” Now you and I may realize that there actually is a problem. Most people don’t think there is a problem.
We run our kids in the same way—and it’s destroying them. The soccer practice and the music lesson and three hours of TV and homework—it goes on from the minute they get up until they go to sleep. They never have an opportunity to experience silence. Psychological development requires periods of solitude. Anthropological psychology—studying other cultures, as well as our own—shows that when children do not have completely unstructured time, when there are no parental expectations looming over them, they actually can’t develop normally.
We see this at higher levels of education, too. Even the unusual and gifted students at Naropa [University]. These people are disabled, in many cases, because they have lived a busy life, fulfilling all expectations that middle and upper-middle class parents lay on their children because of their fear. The underlying thing is fear of space.
We all have it. I have it in a major way. I am busy. I have all these things that I like to do. When one thing ends, the next thing starts. It’s all important and I have to do it and I don’t sleep enough. So we all have to take another look.