Monthly Archives: December 2015

Addicted to our screens

I’ve lost count of the articles I’ve read about the pervasive and damaging nature of technology. Participants on the eight week courses I teach often comment on how difficult it is to switch off from work, citing the fact they can all too easily read their emails 24/7 as one more stressor in their life.

Being by nature quite low-fi I thought I had managed to dodge all of that. I didn’t get a smartphone for years and like many middle-classed parents, I don’t use much technology in front of the kids. Their screen time is usually limited to watching the occasional CBBC programme on the computer and the odd educational maths or English online primary game we’ve discovered.

So recently when I facilitated a full day mindfulness practice session I was surprised by how much yearning I experienced to check in with my phone as the day unfolded.

Perhaps it was because running the session, though fulfilling and relaxing as it was, felt like work. And at work, away from the kids, I often lose track of how often I surreptitiously check my phone for missed calls, aware small children can fall sick at any point during the school day, I check in with my phone to seek reassurance. A blank screen tells me all is, thus far, well.

So I was working but needed to model the behavior I had set out for the group – a day to switch off your phones and just be with yourself, practising non-doing, practising noticing what happens when the distractions are out of our reach for six hours.

As facilitating meet up groups comes under the broad umbrella of work, I wasn’t expecting to get much out of it for my own personal practice. But the day unfolded as one of great calm. It allowed me to tap into the calm I had experienced whilst on a longer retreat. I was aware I didn’t want the day to end and part of that was connected with having a digital detox for the day. It allowed me to return to work the next day fully recharged, ready to face the Christmas chaos of work do’s and busyness that lay ahead.

For more details on local practice sessions and our regular meet up group follow the retreat tab https://thismindfullife.net/retreats/ or the meet up group tab https://thismindfullife.net/bishops-stortford-meet-up-group/

Today’s total practice time: 20 minutes mindful movement, 30 minutes seated practice.

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Everyday Stressors

Coming into London the other day there was the unwanted and depressing announcement that due to a fatality on the line all trains would be delayed and possibly cancelled at short notice.

It seems most people’s first thought in a scenario such as this is towards the departed person that became a fatality on the line. Phones were fished out of pockets. People calmly and quietly explained to bosses and line managers dotted all over the capital that they would be late because ‘some poor beggar has bought it on the lines’, as one fellow commuter put it.

Then we proceeded to wait. It was cold. It was wet. It was the week before Christmas. It was the last thing any of us wanted to do but wait we did. For more information. For a train. For clarification.

I have yet to see a better example of collective acceptance as this. It was as though the whole platform sighed, with a nod of compassion towards the person who had died, and waited in a very stoical, polite and respectful kind of way.

Half an hour later, only after the train company, in their wisdom, cancelled and sent off (empty) a 12 carriage train only to announce a 4 carriage train would be next, did the annoyance start to be more palpable.

We were all late, for very sad reasons, but there was now a whole platform filled with disgruntled commuters trying to squeeze onto a very packed and tiny train. Some jostled and elbowed their way to the front. Others hung back. People started to moan about the logic, or lack of it, of sending off a lovely 12 carriage train at peak travelling time when the next train in line had so few carriages.

Anger was present, there was no getting away from it but still most people stayed calm. There were a few tuts, sighs and muttered swear words but as the 4 carriage train pulled away, leaving most people still waiting on the platform in the cold wet gloomy morning I felt strangely heartened. Most of us were able to face this disappointment with a sense of decorum.

Arriving at work after the forty minute wait on the platform, the forty minute slow train ride (standing up, feeling as though in cattle class rather than second class), followed by another 30 minute squeeze on the tube, I felt like I had already done a full day’s work.

But there were moments when the fog of disappointment cleared enough for me to meditate during the nightmare commute. Meditate on frustration, disappointment, acceptance and loss. The stressors don’t vanish but you see them for what they are: a string of annoying obstacles, coincidences rather than a conspiracy to ruin one’s day. And at the heart of the meditation lies compassion – for the person who died and their loved ones.

Total practice time: 20 minutes seated practice + 10 minutes walking meditation

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