“We are like islands in the sea, separate at the surface but connected in the deep.”
If you caught last Wednesday’s post, you know that I’m in the midst of quite the adventure, working with mindfulness as I travel throughout northern Vietnam. Last weekend, I boarded a junk boat for 3 days of floating through Bai Tu Long, which is part of Ha Long Bay, not far from China. As the photographic evidence above can attest, it’s a feast for the eyes (and the belly!! but that’s another post). It was the perfect opportunity to dial life all the way down, for lots of good reasons including that there was no other choice.
Wifi connection = “No Networks Available”
Nice, generous new friend’s reliable hotspot – Nonexistent
Cellular data – “No Service”
It was shut down, people. That phone was basically an archive, and thankfully, a pretty decent camera. Nothing else. Maybe this sounds ok to you, but despite the fact that I fully signed up for it, as the time to board the boat approached, I found myself doing some manic refreshing. And not the eucalyptus-infused steam bath kind of refreshing, although after just over a week of travel that sounds ay-maaaay-zing. I’m talking about more of the gotta-see-what’s-new-one-more-time-and-one-more-time-and-I-swear-just-one-last-time variety. It was like I was walking away from food and water for the weekend or something. One more bite before there’s no more! In retrospect, it was – even from a mindfulness perspective – alarming.
But of course, especially from a mindfulness perspective, it was also an opportunity to observe.
After all, I wasn’t going to be on the boat alone. There would be very nice, interesting people from different places to get to know. Even more, there would be chances to explore some of the thousands of micro-islands that populate Ha Long Bay. Lots to do, or not do (hello, naptime), as you choose.
So why the resistance?
Habits are so much more powerful than you think they are. In the case of technology, and especially social media, you might even call it “addiction,” and there’s plenty of science to back you up on that if you do. Over the course of the weekend, I definitely had the chance to notice when the itch arose to engage in a little light scrolling. What was even more interesting for me, though, was the recognition that losing connectivity to everything that wasn’t right there with me gave me two alternatives: get lost in my thoughts, or get present in my space.
OK, so maybe a third option, as well. I could also get present with my thoughts.
You hear me talk all the time about how practicing mindfulness teaches you to see your thoughts as creations of your mind. You can’t control them, but you can learn to intentionally respond to them. Right, right, you know this. I do, too, ‘cause you know, I’m a mindfulness teacher and all. Once that phone turned into a photo album, though, I realized that my thoughts haven’t been getting much traction lately. Plenty of them, for sure, but few getting much in the way of long-term commitment.
Reason being, I always cut them off.
Thoughts come in lots of varieties, but they can get messy, and often lead to the emergence of their next-door neighbor, emotion. And yikes, those things – feels? – unless they involve bliss, we usually choose to pass. And you know the best way to do that, right? Yup – swipe left.
Now, I can offer the excuse that I do use social media for work (including this, brand new this week!), but that just doesn’t cover it. I really had no idea how often I look to my phone to give my brain something else to snack on.
It seems that even just a little bite does the trick, and then back to where I was. Except not, you know, because when you interrupt yourself, you never quite go back to where you were.
So, this past weekend, no interruptions. The thoughts came, and when they did – meditating or not – I watched. For the first time, I saw not just individual thoughts, but entire paths, many of which were well-worn from my pattern of inhabiting them. I saw how it’s possible to stand at the beginning of a trail of thoughts, and choose whether to go down it. Some of those paths aren’t useful, really, so why bother with the trip? Choose an alternate route, or perhaps, choose for a moment to just be still and breathe.
As you’ve heard me say before, “Energy flows where intention goes.” You’ve got things to do, from what I can tell, and wasting energy is not on top of your list. So, don’t do it. Be intentional.
How? You pay attention, and over time, you notice patterns. You notice what you think about a lot, and you begin to make choices about whether those thoughts are useful, and worth pursuing, or whether they deserve a hard pass.
Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk and well-known mindfulness teacher, says that we are all interconnected, and that part of our work in life is to see through the “illusion of our separateness.” It’s hard to wrap your head around the idea of us being separate, though, when we have endless and constant methods for sharing information and connecting with each other. What kind of connection is that, really? Is posting and scrolling, and even texting, the same as being fully present with someone? No doubt it’s cool, as it makes it possible for us to keep up with people on the other side of the world in real time. That’s a human civilization game changer that can actually be used for good. But…through this constant stream of information, are you really connecting, or are you just connected?
Another gem of wisdom says that we can only meet others at the depth at which we already know ourselves (Matt Kahn). In other words, if you want meaningful relationships with others, you gotta start with yourself.
I know it sounds a little “woo-woo,” like something someone who’s just spent 3 days on a Vietnamese junk boat would say, but it’s true. We connect most readily with people whose experiences we understand. It’s a little thing called common ground. When we are able to do that on a deeper level, because we recognize their joy, their suffering, their fear from our own introspection and experience, then we elevate that connection with compassion.
When we’re just scrolling and swiping, we miss a lot of that.
The world we live in is not about to slow down any time soon. Opportunities to distract your brain will continue to multiply by the second. You can choose to be connected whenever you want to, or need to for school or work obligations. Be open to the possibility that the first step to really connecting, on the other hand, may be to disconnect – remote boat seclusion optional.
Photo credit: moi!