I love technology and think that virtually all modern forms of it can largely be used for a fuller, richer, more productive and efficient life. And as an iPhone fantatic, I’m even considering doing some occasional posts about some of my favorite apps, as I find them absolutely relevant to all that we talk about around here.
But now the bad news. With all that technology at your fingertips 24/7 – and all of the different mediums of news, communication, music and other media – I’ve often found myself filling up most every spare few moments of the day with my face in my iPhone, immersed in more data. And I suspect with all of the voice mail, e-mail, phone call and texting capabilities that most of us have these days, this is a familiar theme for many. In fact, we all can SEE this going on around us, constantly.
The problem is, when do we have time to just be? Where is the downtime, the decompression period, the little pockets of creative incubation throughout the day? When do we allow ourselves a chance to relax into the nothingness of the moment – if only for a few minutes – and practice mindfulness, be grateful, be present to those around us or connect with nature? If you have any sort of meditation practice, that’s great. But to truly live mindfully, we have to practice more than just our designated 20 or 30 meditation minutes a day. It should be something that we tap into throughout the day, everyday.
So here’s what I’ve been practicing more of lately. Whenever I find myself with a few spare minutes between activities, I pull myself into the present moment, and take 10 full, slow, deep breaths. In through the nose, out through the mouth, silently counting each one on the exhale. I stretch each full breath out to take between 15 to 20 seconds. In public, I’m pretty discreet, so no one would even know I was doing it. But when alone, I’ll often exaggerate the actions, which includes inhaling more deliberately and exhaling like you’re blowing out a candle.
I think only good thoughts while I do this and try to notice everything and anyone around me…always without judgment of any kind. When possible, I’ll look at some trees, the sky, an animal, or something other than a computer screen or cell phone interface. Within those 10 breaths, I’ll fully acknowledge the elasticity of time that’s happening and merge into the present. Then, and only after I’ve slowly completed these 10 breaths, I’ll return to the endless barrage of voice mails, texts, e-mails, MySpace and Facebook messages, and all other technologies that I’ve yet to be able to fully stay on top of.
A few things to notice as you try this: First, it will probably feel like the longest three minutes of your day, every time you do it. (And I would try it on two or three separate occasions throughout the day to start.) Also, notice your fundamental resistance to this practice; notice how the mind starts tripping with nothing to occupy it but counting these breaths, or making simple acknowledgments; notice your potential impatience…how you can’t wait to get to 10…or how your mind will stray even after only 20 or 30 seconds; notice how you’ll start thinking about what you just did (past), or what you have to do next (future)…basically any other thoughts that are not about the present. If (when!) these things happen, don’t get discouraged. Just calmly bring yourself back to the present and keep counting those breaths.
It’s pitiful, how undisciplined our minds have become. But it’s a part of modern life that we have to address if we don’t want to walk around like a bunch of zombies, oblivious to the beauty of every moment. And just like our bodies require steady conditioning week after week if we want to enjoy physical fitness, the same is true for our minds if we want to enjoy mental fitness.
Try it two or three times a day for a week and watch what happens…