I lost my smart phone at the airport in Austin last month. Good riddance, I wasn’t using the darn thing as a phone, but as just another way to compulsively distract myself. Which, to my own chagrin, was turning my brain into some cross between Pavlov’s Dog and Skinner’s Rat.
“Well, that’s it,” I thought. “I’m off the grid now.”
A month now without a smart phone, and I feel as good as I remember feeling before I got it. The real world in front of me is a lot better than the virtual world of hyper-speed, hyper-information and cold connection (admit it, these devices that are interconnecting us are also making us less connected and anti-social).
While wars rage on all over the world, as they always have and always will (until people start taking personal responsibility and learn to leave each other alone), another battle is raging right in front of you: the battle for your attention. Who or whatsoever gains that can influence your behavior in big way; and who or whatsoever influences your behavior controls you.
Commercials and social media and all the pretty colors and flashing lights are designed to get you out of your organic human reality and into compulsively doing and buying and wanting stuff you don’t need. It’s all driven by the basics of behaviorism.
As I write this at a coffee shop, more than a dozen people here have their faces glued to a smart phone, completely oblivious to the people or world around them. I wonder what it would take to get them to look up? A fire? Maybe the firefighters will have smart phones, too, and we’ll all be happily oblivious together.
Can you leave your phone alone when a notification chimes in? If not, then you’re not in control of your life – someone else is, like Mark Zuckerburg and Larry Page. Shouldn’t you be able to choose what you will pay attention to, when you want to pay attention to it, and for however long you want to pay attention to it? It is your rightful capacity, but do you exercise it?
It’s hard to just be, to feel, to stay still. It’s really hard, because it means you have to face what you’re feeling, what’s inside. And that can be really uncomfortable at first, and that’s why we like to be distracted. Nobody likes to be uncomfortable. At the same time, avoiding what you’re feeling won’t make it better and it won’t go away. You can’t heal something you deny.
Physical yoga practice affords us the opportunity to use the body and breath as objects of concentration and awareness meditation. Meditation practice allows us to become aware of the nature of the mind and body as “not me,” and gradually detach from them. Through “not me” experiences we become aware of our true nature as the ever-present, eternal witness that is simply aware of the mind and body. What follows is experiential knowing the nature of the authentic self as bliss.
Yoga is the internalization of consciousness. True practice requires, at the bare minimum, a blocking out of external distractions and a turning inward away from the external material world of form. It requires us to get quiet and listen. Smart phones, social media, and video games, by contrast, actively externalize consciousness, divide it, scatter it, and further program the mind for compulsive wanting – not to mention the devastatingly negative affects on posture.
Last December I led a 7-day yoga retreat in Maya Tulum, Mexico I called “Power Yoga Unplugged.” The theme of the retreat was to practice yoga and meditation for an entire week without computers, phones, or electronic media. 16 people attended, all a little hesitant to surrender their vices and devices, if for only a week. In fact, 2 decided to keep their phones and stay plugged in. While all 14 who unplugged had transcendent, life-changing experiences, the 2 others complained and kept themselves miserably busy the entire time.
The vast majority of the modern world is now mindlessly addicted to some form of electronic device and media. That leaves the sun, stars, mountains and trees to the remaining few who have the mental strength and curiosity experience life organically. I’ll take the practice of discovering nature, and my nature, over Facebook any day.
Let’s get off the hamster-wheel and back into our true Selves. I’m leading another Power Yoga Unplugged retreat February 14-21, this year in beautiful Costa Rica. I hope you’ll unplug with me and experience the true power of your Self for yourself. Namaste.