The collective energy of 50 people doing nothing is powerful. We sat still this Sunday in the beautiful grounds of Kincoppal Rose Bay for a day of mindfulness. Fifty people in silence – sitting, walking, listening to the sound of nature and just being. No one checking their phones or rushing to get somewhere or even saying thank you. Silence can be liberating.
My mind is usually as busy as an amusement park, always looking for distraction and entertainment, so a day like today, where focus on the present moment reigns, is very refreshing. After the session I’m clam and grounded and feeling blessed that I had this opportunity to share in a day of nothing with so many.
It’s reassuring to see that there are so many people trying to find an avenue back to the present moment amidst the chaos that life is in the 21st century. At the end of the day when we had the opportunity to discuss the experience, the comments revolved around the same theme: finding time and space to just be. We are all in the same boat.
Like everyone at attends a retreat, today I’ve renewed my commitment to stop rushing towards the future. But as I walk home now after a day of bliss, I know I will open the door to the chaos of kids, dinner, lunch boxes and work – my natural environment. The challenge is to bring awareness to these ordinary moments, which make up most of the moments of our lives, and be present to them. It’s much easier to be calm and content when you get to lie down in your yoga mat. I’m putting the welcome mat to the ordinary tonight, I hope I’ll succeed and I hope that you will too.
No, it’s not pizza – it’s feeling the air in and out of my nostrils. But when pizza is in the air it’s hard to focus on the breath…
I’m a lapsed meditator but after running on empty for a few weeks, maybe months, years, can’t remember, I have recommitted to my meditation practice. I’ve experienced the benefits of mindfulness meditation before and know life makes much more sense when I live it in the present tense – meditation is the food I need for the journey back to the present.
I know creating the headspace to live in the present is not easy. I’ve tried before and failed so now I’m going to do things differently. Tonight I made a conscious decision to stop the evening madness. Got home at 6:30pm with the kids, gave them a few rice crackers and went for a quick walk with the dog. I went barefoot as I really needed to walk on the grass and feel the energy of the earth. Dinner was easy, just takeaway pizza and salad. Earlier today I had done 10 minutes of Headspace on the train on the way home, then, a walk meditation from the station to the school. And I’m going to bed early.
But not every night can be like tonight. Some nights I need to work, others there is homework or something else will come up. Still, I want to be present to what I’m doing and to how I’m feeling instead of being lost in thoughts while rushing from task to task on a race that usually takes me nowhere.
Regardless of where the journey takes me I’m going to take a detour to the present moment – that’s the only place I need to go anyway. But I’ll need fuel for the journey, I’ll never get there on an empty tank. So I’m making time to practice meditation, not only on the train when I have a few minutes to spare. I’m making the effort to wake up earlier, just 10 minutes to get started, and I’ll be going on a ‘day of silence’ practice on Sunday. Hopefully this will set me in the right direction. Wish me luck.
In this hyperconnected digital age, it’s good to remind ourselves that we not always need modems or cables to feel connected to each other – we have our own WiFi inside of us that constantly scans the environment for opportunities to connect. Just tune in and pay attention. You’ll notice that when you see others suffering you can feel their pain, and if you are really in tune you’ll also do something to alleviate their distress. You’ll notice that you laugh with your friends even when you don’t get the joke and shed tears of joy at a friend’s wedding. We are social beings with a need and an innate ability to connect to others, no props required.
Our innate drive for connection can probably explain why we are so addicted to social media – suddenly we can grow our social network exponentially, in the click of a button. Technology has brought down distance, time and social and economical barriers between people – we can potentially reach out any time to anyone on the planet. If what we are after is quantity social media can readily deliver. But the problem is that our audience may be limitless in size but the quality of the connections we foster online are much more limited than those we have in the natural world.
Social media enables us to broadcast content to the world and receive broadcasts from others and in this process we share and receive feedback – we sit and wait for comments and ‘likes’ from our connections – and how we crave for their seal of approval! Nothing wrong with wanting to be ‘liked’ but what concerns me is that when we spend three hours of our day maintaining relationships in this way we are eating out on time we could be spending cultivating richer connections.
I love technology and think it’s a great gift to humanity but we should remind ourselves that it should be used to amplify our social experiences not detract from them. We’ve reached a point in which our phones are our best mealtime companions and to me this indicates there is something out of balance. We have a need to connect but to live fulfilling lives we need to connect in a meaningful way.
The more connected we are to our devices, the more disconnected we become from the world around us.
The average person spends three hours per day on his phone – that’s almost 20% of your waking hours! I love mobile devices and in many situations they do make me more productive, which means I can enjoy more of the things I appreciate in life. But I reckon that if you spend a fifth of your day engaged with your phone, any gain in productivity is surely being lost. These figures are only for smartphones, image how much more time if we include all electronic devices.
‘Everything with moderation’ says the old adage but when it comes to connectivity we can never have enough, we are constantly craving more. Our mobile devices are readily available and always have something new and stimulating to offer – the richness of the digital world is very engaging – it’s really hard to resist the temptation. Apple didn’t create a phone to spend the day in our bags. Smartphones were designed to be repeatedly used and we all fall for it – without giving much or any thought, we keep distracting ourselves with digital experiences, some say 221 times per day!
This hyper connectivity with bits and bytes is disconnecting us from ourselves and the physical world. We chat to our friends on the phone while watching YouTube videos or check our emails. Children in the playground swings scream out to parents totally absorbed by their phones. There is no limit, we are always on. I’m sure the digital richness of our lives is in many ways making us poorer. Science shows that the over use of technology is making our brains smaller and affecting our ability to pay attention. And as we continually focus our attention in the digital world there is little mental space left for reflection and learning about ourselves which limits our ability to develop self-awareness and self-regulation. Unable to regulate our impulses we become even more addicted to our digital devices. It’s a vicious cycle.
I’m particularly concerned with the digital natives, the children brought up in the digital age, as this hyper connectivity is the only reality they know. “No child should have to endure this suffering” my eldest declared when I didn’t let him bring his tablet in a recent car trip. My parents used to take four kids on three-hour car rides to the farm every week and we would play games, appreciate the small towns, people and nature. Mum and dad had to endure our bickering in the back seat and the “are we there yet?”. But being present to what was happening, the good, the bad and the boring, was part of the experience. These days it’s hard to find anyone willing to put up with the boring or unpleasant bits. We quickly inject a dose of mental stimulation to alleviate the pain of the present moment.
I love technology and am not advocating for anyone to retire their devices. I just think we should be more mindful of how and how much we use them. Do you really need to take your phone to the toilet with you? I once found an iPhone in the toilet, in the top of the toilet paper dispenser. We need to re-learn how to set limits and prioritise what really deserves our attention. When I notice my kids watching TV while playing with their tablets, I ask them to choose either one. If something isn’t worth our undivided attention, it’s not worth out attention at all.
Our devices should be used to enhance our lives, not detract from it. The digital experience is exciting but let’s not let it disengage us from the physical world and carry us away from a much richer experience that is real life.
Only my thoughts with me on the train. They kept me company for a couple of stations and then it was only me and the silence. Beautiful silence. There was the rhythmic beat of the train’s engine, the metal wheels rubbing against the rail and the drivers’ announcements but I tuned in to my heart’s beat and the movements of my breathing. I had a moment of mindfulness and felt immense peace.
My journey with mindfulness started about four years ago. My initial introduction was through books, followed by a 8-week MBSR program. I’ve lapsed here and there but in the last few months my meditation practice has gained momentum again. I joined the mindfulness summit in October and it was very energising and I’m committed to keep the momentum going.
Mindfulness has a very strong impact on my anxiety. When I manage to maintain the practice I feel a much lower level of agitation in my mind. The problem is to keep the practice going consistently. You skip a few days and, at least for me, it’s very hard to pick up where you left off. But I feel I’m heading in the right direction now. I’ve embarked on trip to go nowhere, a trip to the present moment.