“The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh
“Yeah…Uh huh…Uh huh…Yeah…No way! Uh huh.”
This was the response I got when talking to a friend the other day. I could tell he wasn’t really listening, because he was browsing Facebook at the time.
Why was his smartphone more important than me? It didn’t used to be this way.
I know I’m at risk of sounding out-of-touch and technophobic. But I really do think this is a much bigger problem than we perceive.
We’re talking about our lives here. Do we really want to dedicate them to an iPhone?
Another Smartphone Shocker
The other day I saw a man on his Blackberry during an entire meal with his family. He was with his wife and young children (although they’ll be adults before long).
How rare are moments like this? How precious are they?
Yet, the man let this moment pass him by forever. If only he’d brought his attention to the present moment, he’d have experienced something far more valuable than anything displayed on a three-inch screen.
And is there any joy in a stroll through the park or along a bustling city street?
Last year I roughly counted one in five people glued to their phones while walking. And this was on New York’s 5th Avenue—one of the most exciting, alive, beautiful streets I’d ever walked on.
Was it really so mundane to these people?
Let me be clear. I’m not suggesting you throw away your smartphone and communicate with telegrams. The smartphone is an extremely useful tool, no question.
What I’m saying is this: Bring attention to the moments when you reach for your smartphone.
There are three questions I suggest you ask yourself every time.
Question 1: What’s the emotion behind this decision?
I work from home most days, and this wasn’t easy at first.
I spent a good couple of years completely addicted to my email account. If there was an opportunity to check my inbox, you can bet your best socks I’d have taken it.
But once I began meditating, I became much more aware of my emotions.
I soon realized I didn’t check my email to check my email. I checked my email because I wanted fulfillment. I wanted somebody to praise me for good work, send me a dream brief, or tell me something fascinating.
As you check your smartphone, try to pinpoint the emotion behind your decision.
Is it anxiety? Boredom? Or are you subconsciously putting off something more important?
Once you know the emotion, ask yourself: Can this emotion be fulfilled by something else?
I realized I got the same feeling of fulfillment from writing. So I stopped checking my email first thing in the morning and would write for two hours instead. Since I’m a copywriter, this was doubly beneficial, because it made me better at my job.
Question 2: What value do I place on this present moment?
If you show gratitude for the present moment, you might think twice about using your smartphone.
Riding the bus is a common place to start checking Facebook. The bus is, admittedly, quite boring. You follow the same route every day, and not much seems to happen.
But what if riding the bus became a wonderful in-the-moment experience? Rather than grab your phone on instinct, notice the passing scenery, the feeling of movement, and the different people who hop on and off.
This is a moment in your life. Never forget that.
If you need to check your phone, the bus is a good time to do it. But if you don’t, why not experience the journey?
Also, remember, if you’re with a friend or relative the present moment has twice as much value. You have someone else to consider.
Personally, I don’t think it’s ever appropriate to check your phone in someone else’s company. (Unless you have something very serious going on in your life, of course.) Show people how much you value them instead.
As Thich Nhat Hanh said, “The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.”
Question 3: Can my smartphone really add value to the present moment?
Before the smartphone, we had something very precious indeed—the unanswered question.
Your smartphone can answer any question in a couple of seconds. That’s true. But don’t you find it’s the unanswered questions that spark the most interesting conversations.
Unanswered questions start debates. They enrich friendships.
The other day I mentioned that the author Jack Kerouac was Canadian.
“You’re wrong,” a friend jumped in. “He was American.”
“Are you sure? I swear he was from Quebec,” I replied.
“I’ll find the answer,” another friend said, withdrawing their smartphone. Presto! Two seconds later, the conversation was over.
Another time, at dinner, a group of us wondered who composed the Lord of the Rings score. All sorts of interesting topics popped up along the way—from Hans Zimmer to John Williams to Star Wars and back to Lord of the Rings again.
“I’ll find the answer,” someone said. And again, it was a smartphone that killed the conversation.
Unanswered questions are uncomfortable.
Reaching for your smartphone is understandable. Perhaps it’s even human nature. But it’s important to stop, reflect, and question what might happen when you do.
I believe mindfulness is more important today than ever before. Unless we take control of ourselves, our gadgets will take control for us.
Notice the present moment. Understand it. Be grateful for it.
And if you decide it’s not a good time to use your phone, please resist the urge. You’ll feel much happier.
Distracted by smartphone image via Shutterstock