My attention span feels shorter and my thinking has become more distractible. When I slow down enough notice the amount of time that passes before my mind wants to “bounce,” it’s pretty concerning. Often I add this concern to a mental list of “things to deal with” but I never do.
How about right now?
What’s up with this brain?
Plenty of research is underway on how exposure to technology and media may be affecting our bodies and minds, but I don’t need external evidence.
For this dear body, I know there is a real effect. I feel it. But what do I do about it? Drop out of society? Do brain exercises? Throw away my phone? The answer isn’t clear, so I tend to ignore the question with a vague sense of worry.
Today I am opening to some gentle curiosity about the question of how technology may be impacting me. I let myself get quiet to see if I can pay attention to what’s going on inside. First I notice some worried and negative thoughts floating around about “letting this happen” to myself. Self-judging thoughts like to come in first, I’ve noticed, and I am learning to entertain them with some lightness of heart.
I also notice some reassuring thoughts. It’s okay, I tell myself, because the objects of my media and technology attention are so daggone good, important and interesting. And truly, they are. Like so many of us in this amazing digital age, I am totally fascinated, hungry for new edges of insight and information all the time on all kinds of topics: humanity’s future, our amazing brains and bodies, food, mindfulness, spirituality, relationships, politics, love, peace… the list goes on and my interest feels insatiable.
Beyond the pleasure of this learning, which is real, I also notice an emotional urgency to my appetite. How can I make sense of this world so that I might better understand how to live in it? How can I feel better living in it when there is so much suffering? How should I participate? Where do I stand?
With my phone, computer and social media, I have the option to bring my appetite for answers and ideas to a never-ending buffet of enticing, desired learning any moment of my life.
Insatiable. Never satisfied. Always hungry for a little more. Always chasing after the next insight, the next reassurance, the next perspective, and so on.
When I wake at 3am, I don’t turn to the stars anymore. I turn to my phone. When I finish a long day of work I don’t stretch my legs or rest my eyes, I reach for my phone.
So while learning and fascination with the world feel good for me in many ways, I can see that the experiences of insatiability and urgency give me some clues about why my brain feels so bouncy.
I want to see if I can make some adjustments with honesty and care for myself. I want to see if I can feel better now and in the long run, learning to manage a life with an endless and eternal buffet at my fingertips.
I notice there are mostly just a few ways that I rest my mind: immersive distraction (like novels, movies or television), immersive creativity (like writing or photography), or periods of everyday mindfulness.
Everyday mindfulness includes the times when I allow my life to get simple. Like when I let the natural world lead me around by my senses, or when I sink into the experience of a bite of food. Like when I finally interrupt my distractibility enough to build Play-Doh animals with my kid or when I sit in a chair with my breath and try to observe this bouncing mind with a sense of perspective and humor.
Resting my mind in ways that already feel comfortable seems wise and needed. Adding a few activities to this list might be a good idea, too.
Relief and freedom are not the same. Relief responds and repairs, while freedom unburdens and opens.
A concern for relief leads me to prioritize letting my mind rest to help it feel better day by day. A concern for freedom invites me to open my mind to life adjustments that may help me form a new and healthier long-term relationship with media and technology, perhaps relieving me of the burdens of insatiability and urgency.
Last week was the start of Lent, which got me thinking of one potential pathway to exploring freedom. I was not raised in a religious tradition, but have always honored those around me who practice periods of heightened awareness, reverence, healing or renunciation. From Lent to Yom Kippur to Ramadan and others, traditions of personal or communal restraint and reflection have always seemed wise.
In varied ways, these traditions provide cultural tools and support to enable people to discover that when we let go of our attachment to patterns of behavior for a period of time, we can create space and freedom to focus on something else. We can give ourselves the opportunity to reconnect with what is truly valuable to us, adjust our path, and gain intimacy with the precious state of our humanity.
It is possible to let go of patterns or behaviors that we do not want, or that do not serve the higher good to which we aspire. This, to me, can be an exercise in freedom.
I have been considering for awhile declaring a period of hiatus from my online life. Thanks to this writing and some inspiration from those observing Lent right now, I’m going to go ahead and do it. Here’s how I’m setting it up.
Phase One: Deep Hiatus
Intention. A strong, clear release of patterned online activity so that I can rest, recover, explore the nature of my relationship with technology, and reflect on the rhythms I intend for my life.
Scope. For two weeks, I will withdraw from online life fully (except for a short list of necessary & required tasks of business and life). In some preparatory ways, I’ve explored the practical aspects of what this will mean. Notably, these are guidelines of a self-respecting and kind adventure, not rigid mandates. If life happens and I need to flex or shift, there’s no need get hard on myself. It would be missing the point. So the guidelines include:
No web surfing
No social media (removing from phone and blocking on computer if needed, as my brain will automatically reach for it).
No article or book reading unless they are on paper
Exceptions must include email and phone communication, of course, though I won’t be chasing email links.
Loving Awareness and Curiosity. What will I do in the new spaces this creates? What effects will I notice? What parts will feel tough? How will I respond emotionally? What will I miss? What will happen to my “bouncy” mind? What will I learn or discover? What pain might I need to face? How can I stay light and playful about this? How can I stay connected with people I miss seeing in the online realm?
Phase Two: Reflect and Plan
Intention. Towards the end of the two weeks, I will presence the the effects and insights gathered during the hiatus, then construct a thoughtful next step. I’ll have some experience and information to work from, and taking a pause here to increase care and awareness is powerful (and often skipped by those who have used periods of abstinence to support efforts to break patterns or make changes).
Phase Three: Adjust and Continue
Intention. Ease into either an extension of the hiatus or a return to online life in thoughtful ways that integrate new insights and ideas, then continue to explore the transition and its effects with a kind, loving awareness.
I’ll let you know how it goes once I’m back online, if you’re interested :)! â™¥
I write like this because I’m one among many who are carving out some new-feeling pathways to living and change in modern life (though the mindfulness teachings I draw from are indeed very old). So many of us were raised to be hard on ourselves as we chased ideals of perfection, success or wellbeing. Often the results of that approach have fallen short of bringing the peace we desire.
It can be quite a different experience to explore change with self-compassion and vulnerable awareness of our experiences. Stories and examples can be illustrative, so I am one among many sharing some of the ways I am entertaining change in these new ways. In case it helps.
I work as a coach and therapist to awesome folks on similar journeys all the time, which is an honor every day.