A Mindful Use of Digital Media

How difficult is it nowadays to engage students in a deep discussion? Or if you’re a parent, how difficult is it to engage the whole family in a talk?

 

There has been much debate about the role cell phones and other digital media has played in making face-to-face in-school discussions more difficult in the last few years. A teacher and former colleague recently told me that students even use their phones to order food to be delivered to the classroom. When I asked why she put up with it, she said she couldn’t do anything about it. It was too engrained in the school (and national) culture. She said parents added to the problem by wanting 24/7 access to their children.

 

I was as frightened by this situation as my former colleagues were. How can anyone learn well, and engage with others in meaningful discussions, when their attention is tuned to the expectation of a text?

 

In our world today, we are all bombarded with messages to keep up with the latest technology. The ping of the cell phone is an affirmation that we are valued and important. So, especially for young people who grow up with digital media, being disconnected means being less valuable. They fear what they might miss (FOMO), even to the extent of keeping their phones with them at night, which can interfere with sleep and contribute to anxiety, depression and possibly narcissism.This serves the interest of big corporations whose primary interest is in turning children into malleable consumers; it does not serve the interests of educators and parents interested in their children becoming clear thinking adults.

 

Self-Reflective Questions For Teachers

 

Adults can be as addicted to their devices as children. Ask yourself:

 

How much time do you spend on your phone, computer, and social media?

Who do you prioritize: the person standing before you, or the one on the phone?

 

To read the whole post, click on this link to mindful teachers.org.

Facing Nightmares and Healing the Wounded World

I am tired of my computer. Like many of you, I go to my email and there are 150 – 250 a day, most asking for money or to save something like, well, the air we breathe or the water we drink, or whales or forests or planned parenthood or NPR or freedom of speech or the right to vote or a public education or our children from gun violence. Nothing important. So I get caught up, reading and checking on what I read, and sign petitions, send emails, or call politicians. And before I know it, two hours have passed. It feels like days have passed.

 

And during all this time, I haven’t talked to or held one physically present human being. Except sometimes, a real person answers a politician’s phone. And we chat, or mostly I chat and say what’s on my mind or ask a question. And if the other person is polite, even if I was angry to begin with, I thank the person and wish him or her a nice day. Because I want a nice day. I want change to happen. But it hasn’t. Not yet.

 

And digital social media can be fun and helpful, but also another tremendous time drain. Several people I know have said they’re taking a temporary or permanent FB sabbatical. I understand. When I’m on social media (which I only do on my desktop, never on my phone—I do have limits), I often notice, like my friends on a sabbatical, a subtle sense of distance from myself. Especially when I look at news shares, I get impatient, and the world can feel like it’s spinning so quickly it’s about to spin out of control.

 

So I ask myself, when I feel an impulse to turn to any social media platform, “Why do I want to do this now? Is it simply habit?” Developing a pause or gap between impulse and response can give us more insight into our behavior and control. How often, once we’re on FB or wherever, do we ask ourselves: “How do I feel now? Do I feel my life has been enhanced, my compassion deepened?” Practicing mindfulness of feelings and thoughts can help reduce both media usage and anxiety, both for adults and children. In fact, without such mindfulness we can contribute to our own oppression, by undermining our ability to think clearly and feel how to create a fulfilling life.

 

But no matter how difficult it is to face, our political world is spinning, and many of us are getting dizzy and angry from it. It is not a delusion or anxiety nightmare. Our civil rights and the remnants of democracy are threatened and are quickly being taken away. The earth itself is wounded and threatened as our water, parks and public lands are sold off for the gain of a few, and the safeguards on public health and safety undermined or violated. The level of corruption and nepotism is beyond anything ever seen before in this country.

 

So, I might complain about all the emails and calls, but what I really want is Trump impeached and his policies stopped. The nightmare is real, but we can’t afford to treat it as only a nightmare. We can’t run or hide or go on a sabbatical from politics. Like the monsters from nighttime nightmares, when they’re faced, political monsters turn into frightened, vulnerable weaklings—although even weaklings can bite. Even though hearing Trump’s or Ryan’s voice might make us feel sick or angry, when we face what’s happening politically, or when we make calls, march, vote, or whatever, we can feel more of a sense of power. We can feel how much the history of the moment flows through us.

 

We can slow the spinning world and turn the nightmare into something we can work on, face, and, with the help of others, alter. The world, even though it’s wounded, can heal. So, let’s work together on healing the world and ending this nightmare.

Sitting In Silence

Can you sit still for 15 minutes and just think, without getting up or turning to a distraction, a phone, a book, a pen, music—or something shocking? A study recently reported by NPR says that most of us can’t. Besides asking people to just sit, alone, the study included a little twist. It allowed people who felt bored or incapable of just sitting to deliver a physical shock to themselves. The result: 70% of men and 20% of women could not sit for 15 minutes without shocking themselves, some repeatedly, despite the pain of the shocks. With the women subjects who didn’t shock themselves, researchers were not clear if the women were better at sitting still or better at not shocking themselves (or both? something else?).

 

Why is this? The study could only make conjectures about that. How do we want to understand this information? Does it mean that we are so dependent on media or on distractions that when we try to be without them, we can’t take it? Are we habituated to our media? Or is this evidence that most of us are not comfortable with ourselves? Maybe there are too many shadows lying in wait in the mind that people feel they can’t or don’t want to face? Or are we just uneducated about how to live in our own heads, or of the role of the mind in creating our sense of the world?

 

In our world today, not only are we bombarded with messages and pressures to keep up with the latest technology, we feel that doing so makes us appear more important. The busier we look, the more important we feel. Being constantly connected means people value you. The ping of the cell phone is an affirmation. So, especially for young people who grow up with digital media, being disconnected can mean being less valuable.

 

I think this experiment, as the authors themselves indicate, invites us to study our own thinking and experiencing. Other people’s answers won’t really help us. And we don’t need only ideas of why this might be true but a truth tested in our lives and feelings. If we can’t be with ourselves, who can we be with? Schools need to join in this self-study. Do we want to raise a generation of people who need an Ap or GPS to find themselves? With increased awareness, we feel less driven. Media becomes the car, not the driver.

 

Think of a time that you could do nothing but wait. Waiting is not the same as just sitting by yourself for 15 minutes, but in both you might start counting moments. When you wait in line to buy something, for example, you have this idea: “I have to buy this new ipod. When I get it, I will be thrilled, happy.“ Or: “I just want the movie tickets already. I just want to get her in the theatre, so we can sit and…” Or you’re waiting for news or for the next text. In any of these situations, you feel suspended in time. You have an image or idea of a future you, when you have whatever it is you are waiting for. And there is this other you, defined by what you’re not, by what you don’t have or what you lack. In fact, you are suspended not in time but between two ideas. You are taken out of time into a mere idea of time. Or maybe not suspended but enclosed in a box constructed of ideas taped shut with emotion. This is suffering.

 

So study or deconstruct what you think and feel when your cell phone pings or calls to you. You might think that these feelings come with the phone, but they come with you. You are the being who feels and thinks. And notice how your culture speaks of the value of media. Notice each ad on television, each time a phone appears in a movie. Notice if there are messages about being alone. And then notice the indifference of a tree or the breeze. Does the tree need to send a text to be noticed? When you focus on the feel of a gentle breeze on your face, do you still think about your phone? What is deepest about your phone is your collection of ideas and feelings about it.

 

Or you might think, ah, a 15 minute respite. I have nothing I have to do. Great. And if you interpret the situation as a moment of freedom from work or whatever, a moment to just relax, then yes, that’s wonderful. But is that what actually occurs when you put away your phone?

 

So, just sit. Pick someplace where it is easy to sit without slouching and you can be mentally awake. Maybe close your eyes so you can better notice your thoughts, emotions, sensations, and images. What comes up for you as you just sit? All you have to do is notice. You don’t need to add anything to the noticing. There’s no need to judge the quality or value of any of the thoughts or feelings, or judge yourself for letting them pass through your mind. Just witness what’s there for you and be open to yourself, kind. If you are open, the thoughts and feelings will arise and pass more clearly. Witness even the judgments as you watch clouds passing by. And notice, also, the sun when the clouds are gone, when there are no thoughts. By notice, I don’t mean note, like write a note with your mind, or bother to remember. Just be aware. Notice the stillness when the sky is vast, blue and cloudless. Patiently, calmly, notice whatever arises, as if your mind was that vast blue space. What is important is your patient interest, your awareness of your life unfolding. Now, just sit with that calm, still awareness

 

When you sit alone, just notice the thoughts or sensations. Let them be just the clouds in the vast sky, or the universe noticing what is arising in itself. The thoughts will then wink out, and what will be left is a universe of awareness silently enjoying itself.