Screen Time

I sleep with my phone on airplane mode. Upon waking and coffee, the day’s ritual includes returning the phone to its open receptivity. Upon changing the setting, I feel myself lean back, as though to avoid the expelled pressure of withheld communications; the pings of incoming text messages bang around the quiet room like rapidly fired tennis balls shot from a machine.

I work in a restaurant where a family of five will spend a hundred dollars on dinner and never look up from their phones. One man sits upright and friendly, gazing at his salad like he a lost a bet, while the woman across from him shops for out of print tennis shoes on the black market. In the drink lane, from whence non-alcoholic drinks come, servers retrieve their phones from the front pocket of an apron with the same alacrity a toddler scoops a pacifier into its mouth from the dirty floor; scroll Instagram, Facebook, SnapChat, Pinterest.

I didn’t want a smart phone. I kept a flip phone not for economy but so I might spend my time well. I resolved when I got the sleek new device that I’d manage myself, would not become one of those sad saps eating dinner with a hundred people on Twitter while leaving my dining companion alone. I resolved not to text at red lights, no way in hell I’d take pictures of clouds. I wouldn’t consider launching a blog post from such a small screen – how would I ever edit properly? I would take no selfies, never indulge hashtags.

Dear Reader, with the exception of posting a blog from my phone, I’ve done all of that. I scroll articles about time management and motivation, shop for books about feminine spirituality and contemplative prayer, I post listings on Etsy and peruse the newest independently published tarot deck I might add to my collection. I use the Insight Meditation timer to keep me honest, so I actually sit in meditation for as long as I intend. I look up gemstone meanings and try to decide if I need that smoky quartz pendulum. I look at other Etsy shops that specialize in malas and compare my prayer beads to theirs. I wonder if there is a place for me in this online world where everyone writes and sells their specialty until there is nothing special except one thing – and that one thing has nothing to do with online.

I have thought about establishing business hours. I keep odd hours, proof of which is in the time stamp on this post, but that’s no reason not to let my students and clients know when they can expect to hear back from me. How about Tuesday through Saturday 2 pm – Midnight? That’s reasonable.

Beneath this inquiry into business hours, I learned that I feel queasy at the thought of not responding quickly to inquiries for fear of seeming negligent in business or callous in temperament. I don’t want to come across as some half assed, un-grounded yoga teacher (I seem to recall a very reasonable yoga teacher once telling me, “Yoga practice should make you feel very grounded.”) So when the volley of pings fly out of the phone, the cats and I respond to texts and emails as they come in. This, of course, leads to oversights, as my mental acuity is not its best before early afternoon.

I find myself feeling resentment and constriction around the very device which is meant to serve my business and, by extension, my clients. I am grateful for the work I get to do, whether it’s designing a unique mala inspired by a client’s spiritual practice or arranging a time to trim an out of town friend’s hair. I have noticed my inability to set boundaries around screen time has made it harder for me to appreciate and be present for the people it helps me serve.

The marvel of our twenty-four seven connectivity is that more and more of us feel severely disconnected. I know I do. It is also a time trap, creating a gulf between my aspirations and the ability to act on my hopes and dreams while scrolling a stream of motivational images on Instagram – learn it, live it, be it. Whilst falling down the spiral I swore I would not go, I thought I could resist the psychological effects of using social media to promote my offerings and wares, but it is impossible.

In a world where high tech and HD are the icons of modern culture, I long to let the edges of my world blur like the moon in a misty sky. Where the hashtag vibehigher, elevate, rise are prominent among spiritual entrepreneurs, it feels like a striking contrast against the primal urge to send down roots and become still, to take my seat on the Earth and connect with the energy that swirls deep in my spine. How can I ever #elevate if I don’t have anything to hold onto?

The idea of turning off my device creates an uneasy feeling, like what comes when turning one’s back on an addiction. The phone in my hand, the scrolling screen that trains my eyes and mind to read flashing images and respond to advertisements, is a device meant to improve our day to day; enhancing our ability to schedule, communicate, take pictures, and plan. But how easy is life if I can’t live it, because I’m too distracted by the device in my hand?

Interestingly, my Teacher is now on Instagram. She is using it to share teachings, post little practices and share insights. I love and cherish this because as a long distance student, it is a new means of connection I dearly appreciate. She talked about it a little bit in class and said that anything can be used with Consciousness, which helped me see how unconscious I’ve been around screen time, media use and online shennanigans in general.

Because Consciousness is the name of the game and I want to practice what I teach and study, I’m going to establish a day in which my phone goes on DoNotDisturb mode (this allows a list of contacts to still ring through) and I put a 24 hour restriction on my apps. I’ll use a kitchen timer to meditate. A notebook and pen for chapter rewrites (these will probably be the best chapters), for music I’ll listen to the radio.

When I return my phone to its open receptivity, it will be with the intention to attend to each incoming message and inquiry with the same level of presence I hope to offer folks standing right in front of me. When I post on social media, I aspire to come from a grounded place, so what I share might be helpful and, though I am loathe to use the phrase, Authentic.

To do that, I’ve gotta disconnect first. I invite you all to join me in this little experiment. I would love to know how it goes for you.

 

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