From habitual distraction to habitual presence: Using your phone to wake up
As part of my current job I have become a regular commuter. In fact, I love train travel - there is something almost uniquely relaxing about moving through a landscape. Look upwards, at a certain angle and you feel held in the confines of the long tube of the train, sky above, the flowing movement of the landscape at each side of the window.
This journey forms my morning meditation. I have developed small rituals, mindfully sipping my morning cup of redbush tea. I sit against the direction of travel watching the landscape unfurl, as I pass the soft orange glow of the city lights into the darker landscape of the country side, just as the sun is edging above the horizon. I feel a sense of being cocooned in the softly swaying carriage.
My peaceful commute is broken by the urgent buzz of my phone, a text alert, an email from my synced work account, a Facebook like. We are all now forever available, on demand.
Our phone has become our very own constant companion.
As this is the case, let’s make it work for us.
An inspirational Buddhist monk, Thich Nat Hanh, developed ‘telephone meditation.’ It’s very much a late 20th century technique. Although the concept is deceptively simple, the underlying premise is pretty radical. So, take a moment to think about what happens when the phone rings…
We have a physiological response; the phone demands we react. There may be the faintest edge of anxiety. For those of us who grew into adulthood pre- the mobile phone, we can recall when a phone was that stationary object in the hallway, maybe an extension in your parents’ bedroom. I was in my mid-teens before I even used a cordless house phone.
In this part of the early 21st century, our phones our habit forming, shaping the very pattern of our day. Let’s admit it, they are high maintenance; at times deeply rewarding while being jealousy demanding of our time. How many people do you know that have an unhealthy, habitual relationship with their phone?
Thich observed when the phone rings, at some level we jump to action, there’s that barely registered flash of expectation.
So Thich’s practice; when the phone rings, you simply take a breath. At the next ring you breathe again - this breath a little deeper, and as we exhale we’re softer, less driven. In the third breath we are already more present, more awake to ourselves in that moment. And as we pause and reach for the phone, to answer the call, text, or email, there is a greater sense of choice.
How simple, to use our most distracting, mindless phone appendage as a vehicle for greater presence, peace and wakefulness in our own lives.
Of course, now there are numerous apps we can download to our device, from the famous Headspace, which I have used and enjoy to yoga apps.
But there is something about Thich’s advice which is deceptively simple, like most of the wisest advice you’ll ever receive. It’s also free. The power of working with our habitual behaviour and transforming a mindless habit into a mindful one.
Give it a go!