Thursday, June 27, 2019

Awake and Present

I don't know about you, but I have an extreme love/hate relationship with my phone. Somedays I love it, I need it, I cannot live without it. And in the very same breathe, I hate it, I want to restrict it, I can't get it out of my face fast enough. Please tell me this isn't just me?!

I personally was late to the iPhone game, holding out an extra year or two with my simple texting phone, until my second Mother’s Day, in 2013, when I was gifted my first iPhone. At the time, I relented hesitantly, already observing the way people shifted their eyes constantly toward their screens and feeling like life held enough distractions as it was. 

Now don't get me wrong. I loved the convenience of my phone right away! I used my first iPhone to capture lots of cute baby pictures and to get myself back in shape after over two years straight of being pregnant and/or nursing. But as time went on, my phone became more and more a part of my life - both by choice and by necessity. I started an online business and managed sales and customer relations while out and about from my iPhone. I started a blog and collected ideas and photos for writing during park playdates. I got bored at home with two little kids and used social media to stay connected and Pinterest to spark inspiration to curb the boredom. And then, we began the adoption process again, and I used my iPhone to connect with other adoptive families and gather necessary information. Within a year or so, I had joined the ranks of avid iPhone users, daily, regularly, sometimes constantly on my phone for texting, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Blogger, Gmail…the list could go on.  

The truth is, my phone was bringing a lot of value to my life. It was literally helping me pay the bills through my online business, it was allowing me to stay connected during my transition to being a stay-at-home mom, and it was providing a platform for me to process some big life stuff and do some much needed emotional work through writing. All-in-all, the good seemed to far outweigh the bad. 

So why, then, did I feel this constant angst and tension about my phone? 

For me, this love/hate relationship with my iPhone has lead me to do all sorts of things. Like social media breaks, iPhone Sabbaths, Instagram fasts and the like. I’ve set restrictions for myself about certain rooms that are “Phone Free Zones” and have tried to take a day a week to do a full digital detox every now and then. No phones at the table. No phones outside. No Facebook this month. Phones off on Saturdays. You get the picture. 

Every new rule and effort to limit my phone usage has been birthed from this place of unease, from this nagging feeling that my phone isn’t truly bringing me joy. The detoxes come on days when I wonder if maybe in all of my phoning, I am missing something else. If maybe the good doesn’t always outweigh the bad. If maybe more of the value and beauty of life is experienced without a screen, and I am missing it all by not just letting go. 

As I write about all the different rules and detoxes I’ve tried to put in place over the years for my iPhone, it dawns on me how clearly and humorously this is exactly like dieting. I am restricting one thing or another, sticking to it as long as my willpower allows, and then sliding right back into unrestricted usage afterwards. 

I guess I have to face the facts: I’m a yo-yo phone dieter. 

I am compelled by guilt, by yearning, by need, by all sorts of feelings that compel me to restrict my relationship with my phone, to try to clear my mind of unwanted distraction. But sooner or later the urge to be on my iPhone takes over. I justify it because, of course, I need my phone (just like, of course, I need good food to survive). I always fall back into unrestricted phone usage in that slippery slope kind of way, where one thing leads to another, and before you know it, I am mindlessly scrolling Facebook (with a donut in the other hand.)  

And maybe this is the crux of the whole thing. Not the iPhone itself. Not the donuts or the pizza. Maybe the crux of the whole thing is mindfulness: How conscious am I of the decisions I make throughout any given day? Am I making thoughtful decisions about my life, or am I letting my life just happen to me? What would it look like for me to be present to every decision in my day? 

To be honest, it looks exhausting. It looks like information overload and another failure waiting to happen. It looks pretty darn close to impossible. 

It also looks exhilarating. It looks like living. It looks like a life where I experience each moment and am fully alive to each sensation. It looks like something I deeply desire.

But what scares me is this: between the dishes that pile up every other second of the day and the money to be made and the kids to be schooled and the errands to be run, I don’t know if this kind of mindful life is possible. I don’t know how being present to every decision in my day integrates with every other To Do already on my plate. I don't know how, or maybe if, mindful living really works.

What I do know, though, is that my power has a wonderful way of surprising me. And that being awake to the minute details of this life - from when I pick up my phone and why, to what I put in my mouth for breakfast and how fast, to how I respond to my children and my neighbors on any given day - these details are the “little things” that truly make up life. They are the decision that matter and that build upon one another to make our lives meaningful. And I want to be awake and present to them.

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