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Rules Are Rules

November 11, 2009

kindle.jpegThere's something to be said for the fact that retreat centres try to get the people who visit them to unplug for the duration of their stay. That's the whole point of going on a retreat -- to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. But following an experience I had during a recent visit to the Esalen Institute at Big Sur, I'm wondering whether this attitude can go too far.

I was sitting quietly in the dining room eating lunch while reading a book when one of the staff members at the Institute rudely came over and told me to put my book away. The reason? The book I was reading wasn't made of paper -- I was reading it on my iPhone and Esalen has a rule about not using computers at mealtimes.

I have great respect for the anti-laptop edict in general. Who wants to eat meals in a sea of computers with people clacking at keyboards, yakking on skype, IMing on FaceBook, checking their email and putting up screens between themselves and others? It's hardly very zen.

But if reading a book is allowed, as well it should be (and it is allowed at Esalen -- no one told me off when I whipped a paperback out at dinner the same day) then why should you have to read the words the old-fashioned way?

As more and more people start digesting text via Kindles, iPhones and other electronic devices, Esalen might have to take a less hardline stance on mealtime regulations vis-a-vis electronics. After all, reading and eating at the same time is one of life's great pleasures.

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