February Newsletter - A Sampling

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Digital Mindfulness By Melissa Dunn

My first memory of being in front of a screen was in 1969 at the age of three when I watched a new show called Sesame Street. I was raised, in part, by television. Becoming an adult at the dawn of the internet, I spent a lot of time online, which is why in 2007 when smart phones came out, I waited five years to get one. I was afraid it would be more like having a slot machine in my pocket than a convenient tool. Sure enough, despite all the positives I gained, I felt like I lost something in exchange.

The average American adult spends approximately three hours on their phone per day, with 80 pickups. I read several books about the attention economy and learned a lot of hacks on how to regain my focus. I took+ notifications and social media apps off my phone, using them only on my computer in chunks at a specific time of the day. During especially twitchy times when I’m feeling more compulsive, I’ll change the color screen to grayscale. And yet, even when I dumb my smart phone down as much as possible, the pull is there.

Contemplative practices like meditation, yoga, tai chi, and Quaker worship help me focus. Last year I went to a five-day silent meditation retreat. The only talking was when the monks gave dharma talks, one of which was on digital mindfulness. The monk said, “We may be monks, but we are 21st century monks.” What a relief to hear that even Buddhist monks are also lured in by screens! Just as they practice mindfulness in activities like walking and doing chores, they practice mindfulness with their screens by setting aside a designated time to be on their device and taking three breaths of gratitude for the tool before and after use.

I also noticed at the monastery that during the micro-moments in between things when we typically use our phones, most of the 200 people there stayed very present. In afternoon breaks, when people had a cup of tea, they simply had a cup of tea. Looking at our phone, no matter what we’re doing, distances us from the people who are with us in the present moment.

This is why I’ve decided to ignore my phone during the precious time I have with Quakers. I don’t need to sneak a peek during announcements to see if I got a text during worship. At business meeting I will listen wholeheartedly and hold the space in the light. After meeting, standing in the kitchen, I’ll have eyes up and my heart open to a possible conversation. And if I absolutely need to use my phone, I’m going to go into another room to do it privately, as if I were making a call. Mostly though, I want new people who walk into our sacred space to see that the quality of attention and centering guides quality of worship and community.