Mindful in a Digital Age

What does that mean? Mindfulness is nothing new. The digital age has been upon us for decades. Why blend the two statements?

Mindfulness is when one has awareness of themselves, in the present moment, without judgement. There’s more to that sentence but those are the key components of mindfulness, and necessities that make for a positive practice. When we shed judgement of ourselves and recognize everything that’s happening to us in this moment, regardless of the situation we’re in, without worrying about where we were or where we’re headed, we become an elevated version of ourselves and are free to focus on what really matters: the breath we’re breathing right now.

The digital age has become one of distraction; of information overload; and of constant bombardment of notifications, communications and needs. We’re always striving to accomplish, yet we’re always getting distracted when some other channel fires a notification, which is perhaps the most detrimental experience to our focus, and in essence, our mindfulness. The devices we carry allow us to beam to another place and time, yet it’s up to us to make sure we’re focused on what we need to be focused on within any given moment. It’s almost impossible to tune out the interruptions when there’s so many channels for them to bubble up from. Text messages, Slack, Twitter, Email, calendar alerts; all leading into the black hole of the Internet, where 30 minutes of lost attention feels like a mere 2 minutes. It’s up to us, the individual, to maintain focus, tune out distractions, and be mindful of whatever moment we’re in. Yet, this task seems daunting, is often near impossible, and leaves us with an insatiable thirst for more.

These situations are almost the exact opposite of mindfulness, as we leave ourselves flung into a vortex of chaotic distractions, interruptions and unrequested meanderings. Often times they creep up when we’re either working on a specific task and suddenly find our attention lightyears away from where we started, or we’re interacting with other people and feel the buzz of our device, which opens up a wormhole of distraction porting us once again to another dimension we never intended to be involved with. It’s in these moments where mindfulness practice becomes a saving grace.

Mindfulness is a practice on one level, but it’s a lifestyle on another. Just like healthy eating, if we sign up for a diet plan it will most likely come and go with minimal results, but if we incorporate changes into our lives with the intention of living and eating a certain way, then a new lifestyle is born. Similarly, practicing mindfulness sporadically will lead to minimal recognition of the benefits, but creating a mindful lifestyle of awareness, patience, and compassion will open up a world of life changes that will pay us back over a lifetime.

Through mindfulness meditation we learn to be present, grounded, and focused on the moment. The breath becomes a driving force of concentration, as we grab all the strands of our attention and pull them inward towards our breath. While we may slip away and lose control, we ultimately come back to the moment and start again, forgiving ourselves for slipping away and letting us start fresh in this new moment. Across our lives, these practices will translate into new ways of dealing with stressful situations, new ways of handling distractions, and new ways of letting go of the noise around us and focusing on whatever is right in front of us and deserving of our immediate attention. Through a continued practice we learn to move gracefully through our day, letting go of what surrounds us, rolling with the ups and downs of day to day life, as there will always be another moment, another stressor, and another distraction.

Connecting these two threads — mindfulness and digital lifestyles — is one that has become a leading theme across my writings. So many people are so continually distracted, often letting themselves slip away from the people they’re talking with, the event they’re attending, or the task they’re working on, that they lose control and succumb to whatever shiny digital distraction grabs their attention next. Digital devices that are always on our person make it incredibly challenging to stay focused, as they’re always pinging us, needing us, and beckoning us to check them. Through a mindfulness practice, however, we learn that the present moment is the most important one, and we become grounded in our immediate situation, enabling us to tune out the noise that surrounds us throughout the day.

Nothing in here says that devices are bad, or that screens are ruining us — both of which have become common themes for publishing across The New York Times, The Guardian, and various other publications. Connected technologies and the screens associated with them are incredible innovations that allow us to do futuristic things like order an on demand personal driver within minutes, quickly learn the best attractions to see when arriving in a new city, and communicate with our friends, family and likeminded strangers from across the globe. They are amazing technologies that open up a world of possibilities, but must be used carefully in ways that improve our lives yet don’t pull us too far away from living in the physical world that surrounds us.

A regular mindfulness practice, in combination with an understanding of the wonders and pitfalls of digitally connected technologies, will allow us to have the best of both worlds: excitingly futuristic, connected experiences through our screens, and an enjoyment of the present moment, our immediate surroundings, and the wonders that life has to offer when we explore our surroundings.

If you’re interested in further exploring how to balance these two areas of life — the digital layer atop our physical presence — please reach out to me. I’ve recently been working with individuals to help coach them across their digital lives, and I’m happy to explore an initial conversation with you.