We’ve all been there: The page is loading. That notorious loop is spinning away in attempts to hold our attention or keep us calm. And sometimes it doesn’t work.
I consider myself a fairly calm and collected person, who also happens to be technologically impaired. Going head to head with my PC often brings out the worst in me.
I didn’t fully grasp just how tense my relationship with my computer was until my midterm paper was due. In true art school fashion, I was printing it off at the very last second. And instead of taking accountability for my procrastination, I was smashing keys, grunting at my screen, and clenching my mouse like it was a stress ball.
When my paper finally printed out (with thirty seconds to spare) I suddenly felt embarrassed.
Without realizing it, I had gone through a semi-meltdown in the middle of the library. I wondered how loud I had been. I briefly felt sympathy for the machine I had been using, questioning if the enter button would ever quite be the same. As my heart fluttered and I rushed out of the room, I realized something would have to change.
Over the past few years, mindfulness, meditation and inner peace have continued to intrigue me. But it always felt like there was never enough time. I had clubs to run, classes to attend, artworks to make (then destroy, then create again). And most of the activities I engaged in seemed to function best when I operated on at least a standard amount of stress and get-‘er-done attitude. Yet I yearned for a way to start integrating mindfulness practices into my day to day life.
One day I realized the answer was staring out at me from my computer screen.
As an art student I had opted for the cheapest computer I could get. If it could type out documents and browse Facebook, it was perfect for me. It was pretty and blue (art kid instincts, if it’s beautiful it has more value) but it was also deathly slow. This ended up being my biggest ally on the quest for mindfulness.
I made a commitment to stop lamenting the time it took for a page or link to load. When my loading loop began twirling away, I decided to take these brief moments as a gift. I would stop fidgeting on my chair. Ground my feet. Breath a few full deep breaths.
At first my mind would still fuss with impatience, but eventually my still body taught my mind how to be the same.
Over time, my experience transformed from feeling like every little click took a lifetime, to wishing the content would load even slower. Every once in awhile my eyes would drift shut and I’d keep up with my breath for a few extra minutes. This had a trickle down effect as the papers I wrote were now being started from a more serene place instead of the come down of a tweak out.
Eventually, I realized another daily computer ritual that offered me a mindful opportunity. I was a member of dozens of poetry websites, blogs, and social media outlets. And each of these required me to log on with a password. I took a day and changed all my passwords to reflect traits I wanted to work on: patience, loving-kindness, compassion. (Don’t worry, I haven’t just given you all my current passwords. As the traits settle in, I change them to reflect my new goals.)
I took off the automatic fill in option so that I would have to manually type in the passwords each time. This turned into a fun game as I tried to figure out how putting in my password could be a conscious reflection. For patience, I paused in between typing out each letter, P (breathe in…breathe out…) A (breathe in…breathe out…) and I kept with it right to the end.
Sometimes a friend would notice how long it was taking me to log on and question if I was having troubles remembering my password. I would explain to them what I was doing and it would stimulate some interesting conversations. Generally, people found that they had never thought of their passwords as tools and were either curious to try or appalled by the seeming inefficiency.
Perhaps you are now considering the ways of the zen computer, but maybe not. I found something that works for me. I am delighted at how these small gestures have improved my overall mood and transformed my relationship with my computer.
But more than anything, this experiment has shown me that being more mindful or patient doesn’t always require stowing away to a mountaintop for silence and prayer. Sometimes all it takes is careful reflection on what we are already doing, and how we can elevate these things into greater consciousness.
There is something for each of us that we do on semi-automatic. My question is: what happens when we start to pay attention?
I am happy to have found that my journey to being a better person does not have to be unplugged or disconnected. We live in a time where the world is at our fingertips. It only takes a little creativity and playfulness to find that everything we need is already there.
Author: Polly Orr
Image: elephant journal
Editor: Emily Bartran