A guest post by a dear friend of mine: CK. Without further ado…
Cause and effect is an important principle.
If we are assessing our smartphone use (effect) then what causes its use? Is the cause being uncomfortable with the current situation?
I observe a lot of people using their phones when there’s a small amount of silence in a room with two people. For example, in a doctor’s office, an elevator, or waiting for someone in a restaurant. It’s almost reflexive. If so, how do we get more comfortable with that uncomfortable silence?
One way is to meditate.
Why meditate? In the words of a well known Vipassana teacher Goenka “to observe the habit patterns of the mind”.
How? Fortunately, in 2018 I was able to go to a Vipassana meditation retreat and not use a smartphone for 10 days. When I came back to my normal life, I realized how much I depended on my smartphone for that little bit of self-soothing.
Another one of my self-soothing mechanisms is watching TV.
After I came back from my meditation retreat, I decided to stop watching TV entirely. At one point, the allure of television was so great that even without a laptop I continued to watch TV with a smartphone. Sometimes, this meant watching television for 10 to 16 hours a day on a smartphone. During clinical placement for nursing I would work 12 hour shifts at the hospital, but every day that I wasn’t in clinical I was at home, in bed, watching television on my smartphone all day long.
The reasons behind this were numerous: I was away from family, away from friends at University, I was a year behind so I felt disconnected from my classmates, it was winter in a small town where there was rarely anything to do except for drink and I don’t drink.
Can you hear the excuses?
These experiences were the negative effects of smartphone use and the cause for getting a flip phone. So, I asked my grandmother when I was visiting her on a weekend if I could use her unused flip phone that she had. It was built for seniors and cheap but it could take calls and perform texts, which was all I needed.
One of the immediate benefits was my phone bill immediately went down to $25 from $50, which was nice.
The first feeling was that of relief.
The reflexive habits in the mind of constantly checking the phone and the let down of not getting that little dopamine boost was a little bit sad but after a day or two normalized quickly. I would catch myself frequently checking to see if there was a new text in place of random Google searches but eventually that faded as well. The first month was probably the most challenging.
Texting is slow without a smartphone.
Turning on predictive texting (T9) makes texting a little bit easier but texting became way more direct really quickly. The first week was filled with a lot of “Yes” or “No” replies. Most mobile plans include unlimited texting with voice messages and pictures. The voice messages feature is super helpful.
However, it did give time for a huge mental breath and do you know what was left after that? A vacuum of time. It’s this vacuum of time that I think a lot of people are uncomfortable with.
If there’s no computer, social media, television, fill in the blank – what do we spend our time on?
At a meditation retreat it is possible to unlearn what we have been taught should make us happy (but doesn’t) (Paññā).
By the end of the 10 day retreat, I experienced a state of happiness and peace that was transcendent with no phone, no computer, no job, no house, no money. This realization has led to introspection and reflection on what brings happiness and one of the answers is letting go of material possessions and distractions (Nekkhamma).
Would I get a smartphone again?
Transcendent happiness didn’t require it. It didn’t require a smartphone, a flip phone, or any kind of phone.
Instead, the question might be what do we need? What are the basic elements of a good life? A happy life? Cause and effect.
If the effect we’re looking for is a happy, peaceful, fulfilling life – what is the cause? The cause is the Dharma. (i.e. the laws of living a good life). Wisdom (panna) allows us to understand or conceptualize these laws but it is up to each one of us embody these laws and continue to live our lives.
There are various steps along the path. It doesn’t mean that every step has to be taken in this lifetime. Some people walk down the path. Some people go sightseeing off the path. Some people scorch down the path at a blistering pace. For right now, I’m just walking. Sometimes Meandering off the path.
Have I given up on technology? I wrote this through Google Docs Voice typing. So, no. However, is it possible in the future? For sure.
With mettā (i.e. may all beings be happy at heart),
Until next time…
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