It’s a quiet room. You’re alone, seated on a low cushion. Sunlight pours in through the window, and you can feel the warmth on your face as you close your eyes. Take a deep breath, and as you exhale, listen for the sound of air passing through your nostrils. Sit empty for a moment before you breathe again.
Your phone buzzes on the floor besides you.
Don’t think about the phone. It’s probably nothing. Come back to your breath. The phone vibrates again. Maybe someone commented on the photo you posted a few minutes ago of the sunlight coming through the window. Don’t think about the phone. Focus on your breath. Maybe it’s your friend getting back to you about dinner tonight. Don’t think about the phone.
It’s not so easy.
With the convenience and availability of modern technology, the desire to stay connected and entertained often overpowers our ability to live fully in the present. However, these same technologies can also have positive effects if we choose to be intentional about how we use them. Here are three examples of disruptive technologies and what you can do to live alongside them in a mindful way.
The proliferation of smartphones, tablets, and computers with access to an endless amount of digital information might seem purely distracting. Once you’ve tuned in to a variety of social media platforms, streaming video services, professional communications, and countless ways to document your life, it can be easy to fall into the trap of constantly feeding on these. A ringtone or vibration from your phone can instantly pull your attention away from face-to-face conversations, meals, driving, sleep, and any semblance of stillness. This is where being intentional can save you.
One strategy for maintaining a healthy relationship with your phone is to designate specific times when you won’t access it. This could include meal times, focused work sessions, and when you’re sleeping. The temptation to stay connected may be too powerful to simply silence your phone and set it nearby. Instead, find a drawer or a box in another room to store your device so you won’t have to look at it and wonder what you’re missing. Another approach is to install an app that monitors how much time you spend on your phone. Some of these allow you to set limits and will alert you when you’re close to reaching your daily maximum.
Video games may seem to embody the opposite of mindfulness. However, some groups have developed new ways of using these to promote mindful, productive behavior. For example, the International Committee of the Red Cross teamed up with video game developers to create realistic training modules for health care providers preparing to enter conflict zones. In more domestic settings, educators have begun to incorporate the language and reward systems from video games in their teaching and tutoring methods through a process called gamification. Without including actual gameplay, teachers have found ways to re-envision traditional assignments through the lens of something many of their students find more entertaining.
Those who enjoy video games recreationally can also benefit from reassessing the way they play. For example, setting a specific amount of time to play can keep you from spending an entire evening outside of reality. If you want to use video games as a meditative practice, it can also be helpful to choose games that are inherently soothing. For example, I occasionally play video games with the intention of relaxing, yet within a few minutes I find myself frustrated, yelling at the screen. At this point, I’m more stressed out than when I began, and it’s difficult to stop because I feel I haven’t accomplished anything.
After I recognized this pattern, I started looking for games that wouldn’t trigger so much aggression in me. The creative mode in Minecraft features an open landscape where you can build an infinite amount of things out of different materials. Separate from the main game mode, there’s no conflict and no consequences, just ample space for creativity. This might sound boring, but for me, part of being intentional about gaming means choosing to play a game that will actually help me relax.
Even one of our most essential technologies, artificial light, can have serious disruptive effects. Excess light pollution emitted from populated areas can negatively affect local wildlife by disorienting animals that depend on light from the sun and stars for navigation. And while it can be disheartening when you can’t see the stars beyond the glow of bigger cities, artificial light has negative effects on our health as well. The light we depend on to brighten our homes, streets, shops, TVs, computers, and phones throws off our natural circadian rhythms, which leads to insomnia and daytime fatigue.
The best way to combat the ill effects of artificial light is to limit your exposure after dark. This includes restricting the time spent on your phone or watching TV before bed. And though you shouldn’t be expected to walk around in the pitch dark in your own home, turning on a low, warm lamp in the evenings can decrease the energizing effects of artificial light.
We need to be careful about how we use today’s technologies, though not all technology is inherently bad for our mental states. Entire industries have risen with the goal of aiding our efforts to look inward and reach a more natural, peaceful state of mind. If you have trouble finding still moments in your life, you could try a number of apps that lead users through simple daily meditations. And essential oil diffusers, white noise machines, and Himalayan rock salt lamps can have a drastic effect on the ambience of a room.