Navigating a busy New York sidewalk these days requires constant vigilance, lest we get trampled by people with heads bowed and eyes on their phones.
It’s so hypnotic—this marvelous content-provider in our hands—that some of us can’t help but constantly check it. The phrase “Put Down The Phone” headlined a recent New York Times article announcing a $200 app that allows you to put away your cell and still have peace of mind that you won’t miss anything “important.”
What important things are we missing when we are glued to the phone to the exclusion of everything else? As my friend Murphy puts it, “Is that the sun blazing gold across the horizon? I hadn’t noticed because my world has shrunk to the size of a kumquat.”
Must we give up our cellulars to wake up? Transformation may not be about giving up anything but, rather, opening to a consciousness that embraces all of it. Doing so allows us to live in both streams simultaneously: the everyday and the “higher.”
To bring higher consciousness to life, one must become aware of oneself right in the midst of an activity. At any moment, there’s a choice to be made between two dispositions of mind:
(1) Passivity and Identification: The mind busy; coming up with answers, attention moving around all on its own and hooked into whatever attracts it.
(2) Awareness and Presence. The mind quiet; attention not moving around, focused on impressions from the senses now and joining with the subtle energy animating the body.
Do we have to stop what we’re doing or behave in a different way to wake up? In fact, nothing about me needs to change except where my attention is. In theory at least, we should be able to be on the phone, totally enjoying it, and be present at the same time. We just need some practice in multidimensional living and something to remind us that we can “vibrate higher.”
Our cellphones vibrate! They make various sounds at random moments. We could even download our spiritual ringtone of choice. What great reminders to mobilize attention! It’s like that fictional gadget in René Daumal’s 1952 masterpiece Mount Analogue: the portable phonograph that is rigged to wake you up by crying out at the most unexpected moments, “Who do you think you are?” It’s the temple bell that rings on the hour to rouse one from automatism to restore awareness.
We can connect what we do with what we really are: beyond form. All that ringing, pinging and vibrating can be used as a call to become present. The first step, when one is called, is simply to witness.
Here are three things to try, for half an hour each day, to be a witness and come back to the present moment:
Cellphone ringing? Observe the body now. As if something sees you here: face, jaw, shoulders and the arm reaching for the phone.
Cellphone pinging? See yourself here. The ping says, “Attention! Look now!” Notice your head as it lowers to reads the words.
Cellphone vibrating? Sense your body. Because it’s vibrating too, with subtle life energy, through the whole of it, from the top of the head, to the seat on the chair, to the soles of the feet. Notice your hands, filled with attention, taking hold of the phone.
These are mindfulness practices observing the body just as it is, listening with both ears and sensing the body. A cellphone can actually help us when we intentionally connect it with waking up. As with yoga, this “union” takes repetition and patience. But what a gift the first time the phone “pings” and we immediately become present. What opens for us is the unlimited dimension of attention.
No judgment allowed. Say I forget for most of the appointed half hour. No worries! As my friend Murphy puts it, “No need to call it Incapacity. That’s a city for whiners.” The attention, when passive, simply gets occupied elsewhere. It happens. So whatever reminds us to activate attention and come home is awesome. Whenever we remember, by means of whatever thought, let it be a neutral bell simply calling us to become aware now.
Going away and coming back: both part of the same process of waking up. What is the important thing being missed when we’re lost on our phones? Presence; Self with a capital S; real I. By infusing usual habits with conscious attention, we enliven everyday life.
When we put the I in iPhone, we live in a new way.
Author: Fran Shaw
Assistant Editor: Elizabeth Brumfield/ Editor: Caroline Beaton