I love technology, I love the things it can do, the ways it helps us connect and share. But I’m getting increasingly concerned about the way it is invading my life.
I notice how habitual it is to reach for my phone in any spare moment. Instead of looking at the sky, I check my bank balance; instead of talking to a friend or thinking what my next real priority is, I check my emails; instead of connecting with my breath and heart, I look at Facebook – and if it’s late and I’m tired this can easily last for an hour or more, until I’m REALLY tired, and slightly low. This is addictive numbing behaviour, not living consciously and sensitively.
I’m not the only one to find fiddling with my phone compulsive. Apparently the average Briton spends over 8 hours a day looking at a screen – longer than he spends asleep. Getting an email, or a like on Facebook gives us a dopamine hit in our brain – the addictive pleasure chemical. And constant connection means constant decision-making – is this email important? Do I need to bin it, or answer? Now or later? This takes energy and distrupts our ability to focus.
When we go on retreat, we’re asked to leave our mobile phones and other gadgets behind, and forgo contact with the outside world for the duration of the retreat. I’ve noticed I’m becoming increasingly resistant to this – my phone is my alarm clock and my camera, and … surely it wouldn’t hurt just to have a little look at my emails now and then?
Yet the point of a retreat is to live focused on Dharma practice, which involves simplifying things, cutting down on our usual distractions. I always benefit from this time spent in nature, NOT doing my usual things like attending to emails, doing more meditation, reflecting on the Dharma, and connecting with others. Often my mind clears and my heart opens and life becomes more imbued with meaning. For this to happen, it is essential to remove some of the familiar things we’ve been depending upon so as to create space for new experiences and glimpses of new possibilities.
Leaving our phones behind can help us uncover and question our views – for instance that one should always be available, whether to friends, family or work – is that really true and essential? Or if you usually check the news frequently, it’s worth noticing what that does to your states of mind, and why it seems important – does it give an illusion of control over the awful things in the world? In particular, we can notice how much our smartphones can become part of our ego identity – I’ve got another email, I must exist!
Unplugging for a retreat takes a little preparation. You’ll need to explain to people who usually expect to be in constant contact, and think if anyone might really need to contact you in case of emergency and how they’ll do that (most of our retreat centres have an emergency number), and put an away notice on your email. It can be a challenging practice for some; give it a try!
In daily life, you might want to experiment with setting some boundaries. In the interests of good sleep I keep my gadgets out of my bedroom. At times I’ve given myself a technology curfew – eg no internet between 9pm and 9am for a month. That saves me from being lost in Facebook late at night, and from finding myself internet-shopping before I’ve meditated in the morning, and creates a sense of a more spacious life. I’ve also had a month of abstaining from online shopping. It all helps to bring awareness to my actions and feeds better choices in future.
On our next Urban Retreat (January 2017) I’m going to leave my computer and ipad in the office so my home becomes a work-free zone for the week. I’ll keep my smartphone but restrict my use of it – no emails or internet shopping!
Where will you set your tech-boundary to simplify your life and make space for stillness and contentment?