When you last heard from me, I was inspired by Liz Gilbert's suggestion to use this time of isolation as an opportunity to get really present with myself (see Vol. 1). So I looked at my schedule and found that the most time I had between Zoom meetings would be from a Friday afternoon to Saturday afternoon. It was going to have to be enough.
After warning the people closest to me that I would be unreachable for 24 hours, I finally put my phone away and shut down the computer at 4pm. Initially, it was strange. I recalled all the things I had already mentally noted that I wanted to do during this offline time window. I tried to just sit and be, but inevitably a task caught my eye and I had to take care of it.
……tsk, tsk, task……
“Okay, that’s better. NOW I can just sit and BE.” I sat back in my chair. At this point I was able to sink into the nothingness a bit easier, but my mind was still busy with thoughts that I needed to check my phone. I sat for a long time, just noticing what came up and the impulses I was having, and then reminding myself that there was nothing I had to do in that moment. It took maybe twenty minutes, but this thought eventually permeated my consciousness and I was able to fully relax into a quiet void.
It was ab-so-LUTEly serene! I just sat there. I noticed the thoughts that popped into my awareness and I let go of the need to act on them.
An hour or so later I decided to read Rob Bell’s, Drops Like Stars, which I’d read once years before, after attending Oprah’s “Live the Life You Want” tour. WOW. I had remembered it as a profound little book, full of what I call “wisdom nuggets,” but it was exactly right for this moment. When I finished reading it I sat with it for a few minutes, letting the nuggets sink in. I don’t want to give the book away because I encourage you to take the thirty minutes to read it for yourself, but the takeaway is a perspective that I wholeheartedly subscribe to:
There is an opportunity for growth in everything that happens.
So I meditated on this. I applied this notion to Viddy’s unexpected and unsettling presence in my life, and to all that’s followed. I dug deep, examining the varying twists and turns of this rollercoaster relationship. I met my triggers and shadows with acknowledgment and compassion, rather than denial and shame. Without the numbing distraction of social interactions, social media, work, or Netflix, I had the space to clearly see myself: the narratives that have controlled my past, and the limiting beliefs that have stifled my future.
I could start to let go.
I prepared dinner and ate it mindfully. Now normally, I like to watch TV while I eat. I view eating as a permissible pause from work, so TV acts as kind of an entertaining, mental-space-holder while I’m on break. It’s part of that feeling that I always need to be doing something. I discovered that it was refreshing not to feel that way for a change! Knowing that the only thing I had to do in that moment was eat, allowed me to savor the taste of that which I was fueling my body with. I actually ate less than I typically would, simply because I had the awareness that I was eating, and consequently the awareness when I was full.
When it was time for bed, having stored my phone in the closet, I was without my white noise app for falling asleep. So I read until I felt drowsy enough. (In preparation for tech detox, I knew that reading would be one of my desired activities. None of the fiction currently in my possession was appealing to me at the time: either too topically heavy, or I’ve already read them. I wanted a fun, possibly trashy, mindless read. I remembered that I used to looooove Sidney Sheldon, so I had planned ahead and downloaded one of my faves from the library to my Kindle. Technically, this is where I cheated on my tech-detox. However, I choose not to count Kindle because it’s merely a book: no links to get lost in, no newsfeed, no bluelight. Judge me for this technology faux pas if you must.)
I woke up Saturday morning with the impulse to grab my phone and check all the notifications; a routine that usually keeps me from starting my day for at least an hour. Alas! My phone was not next to me; it was in the closet! Since the back-to-back, emergency ring never sounded, I decided it was safe not to check it. Without the mindless scrolling, it only took about fifteen minutes for me to get out of bed upon waking. I savored my coffee, meditated, listened to the birds singing outside my window, and soaked it all in.
My morning, sans technology, was blissful.
In the early afternoon, I decided to go for a walk but I knew I would need to bring my phone in case of an emergency. It was then that I realized it had been on all night without charging. Carefully, I covered the notification portion of the screen with my palm so that I could check the battery status without getting caught up with what was waiting for me. This plan only partially worked. Even though I blocked the actual notifications from my view, I wasn’t safe from the status bar. Checking the battery, several notification icons popped up alongside the battery icon; the serenity I’d been experiencing was instantaneously gone. I told myself not to think about it; I still had another two hours left of “offline” time and these notifications would be waiting for me then. Deep breath. Crisis averted, I went on my walk.
I did not enjoy it.
For one thing, the route I chose was undesirable. It was less residential, more industrial. Less trees, more cars. I didn’t pass many people, and the ones I did pass were not engaging. The energy felt heavy; a stark contrast to the energy I’d been feeling in my at-home-retreat. And those notifications that I knew were waiting for me? Yeah. Totally got into my head. I kept thinking I should check what they say just to ensure there are no emergencies. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to appreciate my last hour of detox anyway…
Alright, phew! Everything can wait. I put my phone back inside my purse went about the rest of my time off with peace of mind. And finally, 2:30 rolled around. I fired up my computer to join my next Zoom meeting. Having had this break, I felt refreshed and engaged rather than resentful and agitated.
Overall, my first attempt at detoxing from technology was liberating! I am going to make it a regular practice, from Friday night to Saturday night (like the good Jewish girl that I am!) and continue to deepen my connection to myself. Reflecting on my time “in the dark,” I see where I hit snags and I also see actionable changes I can apply to my daily habits to circumvent them.
While it was liberating to be unreachable for 24 hours and to not feel accountable to anyone, it’s not sustainable for much longer than that. The experience of inadvertently glimpsing the notifications when I was only checking the battery ignited my anxiety. I realized the notification overload that drove me to going offline in the first place was going to be waiting for me at the end of whatever time period I choose.
Instead of building up to longer stretches of detox as I originally intended, I can set reasonable, daily, tech boundaries. On work days, I can check my phone in the morning, put it away during business hours, and limit social interactions to the evening. This will keep me from the notification overload when I’m trying to stay focused on building my business. (Remember life before cell phones? When we were at work we had far fewer distractions and a lot higher productivity!)
All of the mindful activities that I often push aside in favor of mind-numbing-distraction-activities have the potential to overwhelm me as well. Whenever I set aside a chunk of time to do something, I naturally start assigning activities to it and the list continues to grow. I knew I wanted to meditate, read, craft, cook, journal, color, take a bath... you get the idea. Sure, all of these are tech-free activities, but it was still a to-do list; the opposite of what I set out for.
Rather than view my mindful activities as to-do list, I can reframe them as an idea list. In case I actually start to feel bored, I can refer to this list of activities that I know brings me Joy. And by making my mini-retreat a recurring event, I will have the opportunity to randomly do all of the activities on my list, thereby alleviating the pressure to do them all in a single, 24 hour window. The intention of my at-home-retreat is to just BE, right? So that is where I will start. I will allow the impulses for these activities to arise naturally, but only do the things that I feel the most aliveness for in the given moment. And isn't that what being present is all about?
The greatest lesson I learned from this is that the closer I get to ME, the weaker Viddy’s hold on me. Although still an active presence in my life, Viddy no longer controls my mental state nor my outlook for the future. I'm still tracking my moods, so I'm excited to see what the graph looks like after implementing these new habits over the next several weeks. By the time Viddy and I eventually break up (and we WILL break up), I will be Rach 2.0, continuing to grow.
But you'll have to wait for Vol. 3 to see how our story ends.
To be continued...
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