The modern world is overflowing. The digital landscape has changed so much that the recent past is almost unrecognizable. We’ve grown numb to how much technology is giving us anxiety and eating away at our presence of mind.
The amount of content that streams into our minds each day has become almost too dense for us to notice. According to a recent study, people pick up their phones 80 times a day. They also struggle to go longer than ten minutes without having a look at their screen. This behavior may be average, but it isn’t normal.
Of course, things didn’t use to be this way. In the earlier days of the internet, we would check our email once a week. But digital communication continued to grow and became the default method for connection. Our compulsion to stay connected grew with it. Now, people generally check their email or messages every ten to fifteen minutes.
We poke at our phones because it’s tied to our feel-good brain chemicals. By getting distracted by our phone, we get a little dopamine hit that’s gone in seconds. Since it doesn’t take much physical energy to mess with our phones, we can do it all day and never tire out. That allows the repeated behavior to thrive. Most people have come to realize this relationship with our phones isn’t good for our mental health. But we can’t help but use it anyway. That’s the definition of addiction.
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One of the amazing things about people is our ability to feel cultural shifts in a seismic way. Most people would agree that our phones are causing anxiety and stealing time from our lives. This is one of the reasons mindfulness and meditation have exploded in popularity. I can only assume the growth of interest in meditation and the increased stress from our phones is connected.
We know the modern world is stressing us out. And we want to find our peace again. Feel organically connected. We want to experience ourselves having an experience. Not scrolling through theatrical fragments of the lives of others. But how can we reclaim our head-space and reconnect with our lives?
Reading is one of the most enjoyable mindfulness training tools available. When engaging with words on a page, you get into a healthy feedback loop of focus that is hard to find elsewhere. Your mind is strong and connected. You must be present to take in the words and focused on your relationship with the passing sentences. Holding a book keeps your hands busy too. The familiar feeling of fidgetiness falls away. Your mind and hands are present. You and your book are right here and now.
Have you ever noticed that many authors have a unique air of presence or mental clarity about them? Why would that be? Authors read. A lot. That means they’re constantly training their mindfulness muscle. And so can you.
Let’s take a deeper look at what mindfulness is so that you’ll be able to enjoy reading while cultivating your presence of mind.
Mindfulness is one of the most effective ways to bring yourself back to now. In essence, mindfulness is a way to increase awareness of your thoughts in the present moment. This enables you to respond to life instead of reacting to it.
Before mindfulness training, one will often find themselves expressing negative thoughts and impulses. The behavior happens so rapidly that it feels beyond control. Actions like these are often regrettable, cause suffering, and lead to confusion about why they happened in the first place.
However, if one cultivates mindfulness, our relationship with arising thoughts and impulses changes. By becoming more aware of what we’re feeling and thinking in the moment, we can guide our behavior with greater intention.
Imagine you’re standing on the side of a long road in the middle of a luscious green field. As a few cars approach, you see them slowly coming over the horizon. You watch for ten seconds. You see them getting closer and closer. Finally, the cars fly by and you feel a strong whoosh of air from the force of each one. Mindfulness turns our thoughts into those cars on the highway. We become aware of what feelings and impulses are arising inside of us as they appear on the horizon of our mind. This gives us plenty of time to choose how to express our thoughts, if at all. It also allows us to sink deeper into the present moment and enjoy the abundance of our experience.
Developing mindfulness comes through prolonged, uninterrupted attention. Ultimately, it is the strength of our mental focus that allows us to direct our attention to the present moment with authority. Of course, meditation is hugely effective. But try reading as a way to develop your mindfulness muscle.
Keep it simple. Pick up a book. Let go. Allow yourself to come to the present. Then watch how your experience of your own experience becomes clear on the horizon of your mind.
Featured image: @maximontesde via Twenty20