Why silent sitting in nature is not enough! On mindfulness in the digital world!
I need to start with a confession. I am an addict. A display addict. An addict to technology. An addict to the internet. An addict to connection, entertainment and therefore an addict to distraction.
Many hours of the day I spend gazing at displays, waiting for e-mails and notifications, searching for news, clicking, touching, swiping, scrolling, reading, erasing*: often losing myself in this world of constant entertainment. I am not the only one. Most of us are and we are not happy with it. Most of us are addicts to modern technology and heavy procrastinators.**
*The French Elektro/Pop/Avangardists perfectly describes (you mean “describe”) these steps of the modern working life in their song “Technologic”. Feel free to hear this song, while reading this text ;).
** “Procrastination is the avoidance of a task being accomplished,” a term that has become well known lately through more and more people procrastinating time on social media. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Procrastination
As a researcher and practitioner of meditations, I am trained to practice mindfulness in meditation exercises alone or within a group.
Meditation masters stress the importance of bringing mindfulness to everyday activities. What this means is to be focused on what you are doing while you are doing it. In the simple language of Zen: When you eat, you eat, when you clean the bathroom you clean the bathroom.
In many meditation centers you can practice mindfulness in everyday activities or special “Work as meditation“- programs. Simple activities such as dish washing and cleaning can become the starting point to learn mindfulness in everyday life. From there you can transport it to other activities, talking, being with people, and later continue to more complicated tasks. In the end this shall help you to develop joy and flow in whatever you are doing…so why not in the digital World?
Being mindful in the digital World
People in the early 21st days work with computers and carry their digital companion — the smartphone. Can we be mindful working with these connected computers? Why not… Basically we can be mindful with everything. But when I talk to people about digital mindfulness, they usually seem surprised and doubtful. In theory digital mindfulness sounds nice. But being mindful in digital, everyday life feels for most people like a huge, Sisyphean challenge. But why? Why is it so hard to be mindful within the digital world?
There are several reasons for this:
· When we are online possible distractions for our mind are just a click away and procrastination happens unconsciously! It seems to be as difficult as being on a diet and living in a candy shop. We might get bored by the work we do. Before we even realize it, we loose focus and see ourselves procrastinating by watching Youtube videos. And this is just the beginning. When our monkey mind* awakens it will jump from phone messages to notifications, from tab to tab, in the infinite ocean of distraction.
*The monkey mind is a term often used by meditation teachers. It describes the mind when it is not mindful but curious and easily distractible. The monkey mind is the opposite state of mindfulness.
· And even if we make it to a good flow, the apps of the Internet are designed to distract us and drive us to procrastination and losing sense of our time. Sam Harris, author, former Google worker, and pioneer of ethical design (http://www.timewellspent.io/) says: Facebook and Google build apps that are designed to distract us. The Silicon Valley companies want us to spend as much time as possible on their sites!
One possibility to get rid of this is to design places that isolate us from distractions in the digital world. But overall we won’t be able to run away from this world totally. True masters of meditation can also find calmness in big cities. The big cities of the 21st century are the cyber space worlds of Google and Facebook. We have to find a way to become calm and mindful in the notification and news chaos of the modern day Internet.
So for me there needs to be an additional approach on this, one I call “Digital Mindfulness.” Instead of rejecting the fun and the joy of the distractive world in social media we should try to be mindful of it. Whenever we catch ourselves getting lost in the digital world, we should instead try to enjoy every moment on Facebook, Instagram, Google and so on. We should try to enjoy it as much as a sunset on a beach vacation in South East Asia.
Some Zen Masters say: If you want to stop smoking, don’t stop, don’t feel guilty about it. Instead take it as a meditation. Enjoy every moment of smoking this cigarette, see how the smoke fades into your lungs, feel how the nicotine flows in to your blood and into your brain. Be aware of everything. You might stop after a while by yourself.
Of course I wouldn’t recommend this technique as a single approach but as an added ingredient to your existing practice of meditation and mindfulness.
So the next time you work on something and catch your self checking your e-mail or looking on Facebook, enjoy it. Breathe actively. Be aware of your body in this world and your mind checking Facebook. Read every article you see with your full attention. Look at whatever happens. . Maybe you will become bored, do something else and go back to your work. Maybe you will stay with it. But in the end you did it mindfully. And you can go back to your work more easily and mindfully.
I want to finish this with a little exercise for a digital (photography) meditation:
Take your phone. Open your camera app. Breathe actively and become aware of your self. Look out in the world and seek for (get rid of for) something that inspires you. Take a beautiful picture. Be mindful when taking it, correct the parameters think mindfully about everything. Just keep it for you. Now if you want you can also post it on instagram or a similar tool. But Be aware that this picture has now been shared with everyone in your friends list and the whole world can see it. Be grateful. Take your phone away. Breath into your body. Laugh. Smile. 🙂
(picture taken before a meditation session in Berlin, November 2017)
A recorded podcast of this article follows soon.