Come Unplugged (Step Away From The Phone)

charlie

Charlie is not helping my argument for coming unplugged…

Coming unplugged in a plugged-in world is a conscious act of rebellion. If you’re anything like me, it can take some exalted effort to leave the phone in your pocket and not take the picture. Or to not text your sister the video with the absolutely adorable/retarded thing your dog just did.

And yet, doing all those things we love to do (or compulsively do, sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference), actually takes us away from the moment. You know, the moment being the present experience. As in… your life.

When you’re constantly texting, tweeting, chatting, videoing, photographing, etc. you are checking out of the now and diverting your attention to another realm… One that doesn’t actually exist. And by that I mean, your body can’t follow you into it.

Instead of being the player, you become the observer. And I’m gonna go out on a limb here and venture to say that it’s not the way we were meant to live.

One of the biggest reasons we love to extoll the “wisdom” of young children is because they haven’t yet learned how to constantly live in the future and past. Babies live in the present; they haven’t learned to worry. “Where’s that big round thing with the milk gonna be back?… How does it always have milk?… What if it disappears forever?… How will I supplement my nutritional balance when it runs out?… There’s no way that supply is infinite… What if it turns sour?”

Thought no baby, ever.

We see that lack of constant mental gymnastics in kids and we recognize subconsciously (or consciously, if you’re self-aware) it is something that we, as humans, intrinsically value. And yet, we don’t know how– or aren’t willing to– take the effort to unplug ourselves from the infinite world of information and semi-human connections that technology provides. Because as stupidly simple as it seems, it does take effort to come unplugged.

In fact, with the ubiquity of technology, it can take our entire store of will power to step away from the light-up devices and get in touch with the world around us. As boring or as trivial as that sounds, it is part of why people meditate, do yoga, go for walks outside, attend silent retreats, hire a babysitter and never return, or otherwise do what might seem like “dull” or “unproductive” things in order to regain their sense of balance and connection to themselves and their inner souls– which is just an argot of us spiritual types when what we really mean to say is: plain old fashioned happiness.

Even though I consider myself an introvert and I need a lot of down time to read, write, meditate, pet my dog and talk to him in a baby voice I don’t want anyone to hear, etc. This is something I still struggle with– finding the balance between being connected and being over-connected to a world that does not always give back what I put in.

For instance.

This often happens when I’m going for a walk with my dog in the woods, and I’ve brought my phone along. I have some great thoughts out there and I’ll all of a sudden thing of something I’ve got to get written down– it’s just too good to risk forgetting.

(When I get something in my mind to say to someone, or something to write, it can take every ounce of my sanity to prevent me from pulling out my phone and telling them or writing it down. I would go so far as to say it can be a compulsion.)

So I’ll pull out my phone and get the little note written in the “notes” pad of my phone. But the problem is, it often doesn’t end there. Even if I just write that one little thing down, then I’ll see a missed call (one thing I have done for awhile now is keep my phone on silent at all times, so at least I’m not alerted to calls or texts as they arrive) and then I somehow feel an abrupt and unrelenting need to check my mail…

I don’t know if you’re anything like me, but it’s like you give yourself an inch, and you take a mile.

Before you know it, you’ve tripped twice, stepped in shit, almost poked your eye out with a tree branch, and lost your dog to a crowd of strangers who kindly offer him treats as a reward to him for not listening as you call his name for the last ten minutes– all because you couldn’t stop reading an article you stumbled upon on Oprah.com. Now you’re limping home with a bad dog and poop on your shoe. But at least you know what Oprah’s favorite things are this season.

Or maybe that’s just me. But…

You may have noticed the funny thing about this world we live in: there is always an email to answer, a status to post, a text to return, a picture to send, a word to look up, or some new scientific research that is just begging you to verify its legitimacy. The truth is, our phones and computers more often become tools in the service of the mania of our minds, instead of tools in service of peace of mind. Yes, they can aid productivity and make life easier. But far more often we use them with the belligerent abandon of a kid with an iPad playing Minecraft on a snow day, and our technology debases the very thing it was created to enhance– our productivity and quality of life–  by turning every moment of life into an opportunity to multi-task.

Here’s something to think about (while you sip your coffee, type up a progress report and talk to your co-worker while reading this): we don’t actually multi-task.

(Say what? Did you just spit your coffee out all over your co-worker? Sorry– that’s not multi-tasking, but it is killing two birds with one stone. I think.) Our brain just appears to be multi-tasking when we demand that it does a few things at the same time. What we consider to be multi-tasking, scientists have discovered (and I verified), is just our brain doing a series of actions in quick succession. And since this week I have already done the world a disservice by spoiling the fact that Brian Griffin is dead, let me take it a step further: there is no such thing as multi-tasking.

I’m also fairly certain the tooth fairy doesn’t exist, but I should probably save that for when I’ve got some more research to back up my claim.

What we consider to be multi-tasking is actually us just half-assedly doing a lot of things in a short period of time, while switching between them all until they’re all more or less mediocrely-achieved. You don’t really get away with anything by multi-tasking. Chances are, it just takes you longer and you’re less able to enjoy the actual experience because you’re having a bunch of lukewarm ones simultaneously, instead of a several rich, full ones in succession.

Oh, kind of like how doctors and other health people (uh… yeah I’m going to leave it and assume you know what I mean) are always saying you shouldn’t eat and watch TV or eat and read emilynolin.com. Because one will distract you and the other will make you choke on your eclair.

But really, because you are much more likely to over eat when you’re not paying attention to what you’re eating, because you’re also watching Sons Of Anarchy and who can focus on food when Charlie Hunnam in on the screen?

Unless, I suppose, you’re eating a banana…

I’ve recently stopped bringing my phone with me on walks with Blue. (And when we walk, we don’t mess around. We go for at least an hour, or else it isn’t worth bothering to trick him into wearing his harness.)

Those times when it’s just me and him and the great outdoors remind me of why I was so insistent on getting a dog in the first place (then he does something infuriating and I’m back to questioning my original logic in handing over actual legal tender in exchange for this troublesome little ball of fur).

But I highly recommend if you are looking to get in touch with yourself, you go for a walk (at a time when you don’t have some pressing engagement book-ending you so that you’re going to be worried about the time) and just fucking go. You don’t even need to have a destination. In fact, it’s better when you don’t. Just put on your shoes and leave the house and experience all that there is apart from your phone or computer or television or even other people to distract you.

You might be amazed at the beauty of the woods or the freshness of the air, and how it can make you feel alive and uplifted even if you thought you may have been tired. How it feels for your muscles to come alive with energy and how it actually is possible to enjoy yourself with nothing to do. I know it’s mind-blowing, but just try it. Once. I’m pretty confident that once will turn into more than once and eventually you’ll have to track me down and hug me because I single-handedly changed your life by suggesting you leave your phone on the charger while you went out and explored the world. (You can thank me later. I love chocolate and trips to the coast.)

You know when you tell a toddler to stop doing something and they’re just in a mood and it becomes apparent to you they cannot possibly muster up enough self-control to listen to you? (Honestly, this is how my dog is with eating poop and rolling in gross things… It’s the only thing that keeps him from being a perfect angel from heaven).

And instead of telling them NO for the thousandth time and eventually yelling and losing your patience, the better route is often to just distract them, or remove them from the stimulus altogether? Much like the toddler, I’ve found that removing the option of disobeying myself is often the most peaceful solution.

If my phone is in my pocket and I suddenly think of a hilarious joke, I have almost no choice but to immediately (or after a few minutes of struggling with myself to leave the damn thing where it is) pull it out and write it down.

It just takes too much mental energy to constantly enter into battle with yourself over whether or not to use your camera, phone, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. at any given moment. Therefore, removing the questionable object is the simplest and best answer.

Instead of taking my phone with me, because I think I need to know the time, I’ll wear a watch. Or instead of texting my sister where I am, I write a note before I go. If I’m waiting on a call, I’ll realize that, Oh: there is such a thing as voice mail. They can use it.

I make it a priority to follow through on taking the time to be conscious and present in the moment. The best part is: once I leave the house, there’s no going back on it. I’ve got no distractions. Shit, now I’m stuck with myself…

A little uncomfortable at first, but worth it. Like any muscle worth exercising, your ability to be alone in nature with few distractions is something you have to work on. But the rewards are great when you do.

For those of you (us) who really have trouble with the concept of not being able to write things down (this is the front runner for me of common reasons why I feel I need to bring my phone along for the ride), bring a small notebook and pen. Then you can write all the amazingly brilliant things that come to mind (and even some of the slightly less ones) without missing a thing, but also without getting sucked into the myriad of distractions a phone will also provide. Or if you love to take pictures, bring a camera. Just a camera (besides, it’s probably better than the one on your phone anyway).

Unless that notebook or camera has Twitter, you should be fine. 

If stilling your mind (which is just a way of saying finding happiness and freedom from stress) is important to you, you have to make it a priority in order to bring it to reality in your own life. It is not enough just to want peace. You’ve got to take action on behalf of it. In order to achieve a light heart and clear mind, you’ve actually got to set yourself up for success.

Ironically, it is some of the simplest things (that may also make you feel like you’re treating yourself like a five year old) which can bring you the greatest success and help you overcome limitations such as a constantly-roving mind. It sounds almost too simple to be effective, but taking walks in nature, or even just walks around your neighborhood or the city where you live, while being unplugged, can be one of the most peaceful, happy and spiritual times in your life.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that most of the best relationships of my life have thrived on these types of walks, as a time for communication and connection, whether it’s with a partner, friend, or dog.

Don’t be afraid to come unplugged. This blog will be here and waiting as soon as you come back to earth. 😉 And although it sounds boring, I can promise you, if you’re human, it has the potential to be some of the time best-spent in your life.

Apart from reading this, of course.

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