There's been a lot of attention paid recently to a video of comedian Louis C.K. on Conan. If you missed it, check it out. He argues that constant use of smartphones obstructs our ability to "just sit there and be a person" that we don't want to be alone for one second, so we have to get out the phone and connect in some way.
Striking a balance between overusing social media vs. confronting feelings of isolation is a challenge I face living alone in a foreign country. My life in Japan presents both challenges and opportunities on many levels, but an interesting conundrum arises where technology and communication are concerned.
I can't use my iPhone outside my apartment - no cellular or wi-fi. It's a beautiful thing. All I've got while I'm out and about is a little rental track phone for voice calls and old-school texting. When I'm at home with the wi-fi though, I become a crazed social media junkie. Internet, email, New York Times online, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, you name it. It's my lifeline, my connection to home and the people I love.
On a quest for equilibrium, I've taken on two new yoga practices:
1) Eat an entire meal alone.
No smartphone, no computer, no TV, book or kindle. No multitasking.
I've tried this at least once every week since my arrival, the first time was not intentional and made me recognize that this is not my usual behavior. It's hard at first, and lonely. Fascinating to watch how the mind rebels, how the hand automatically reaches for the disconnected smartphone, the kindle, a magazine in Japanese that I can't read. Perhaps the hardest part is ordering at a restaurant and waiting for the food to arrive (it's easier when I cook for myself at home). There is a certain loneliness, an emptiness that creeps up from deep within as Louis C.K. describes in his interview. But with the emptiness comes a feeling of relief. I can sit and be. I don't need to rely on any additional stimulation when there is real life happening right now in my immediate surroundings.
The more I get used to it, the more I enjoy the simple pleasure of eating a meal. I notice how everyone around me is so busy. Fully consumed by anything but the act of eating.
Food is meaningful nourishment worthy of our attention. Just once this week, try putting everything aside. Take yourself out to lunch at your favorite spot. Sit, eat, enjoy!
2) Unplug 30 minutes before bed.
Shut it all down and take some time for yourself. If 30 minutes is unrealistic, make it 10 or 5. And then commit to a technology pause which separates day from night.
I realized that my tech-connection cravings were present 24 hours. Jet lagged and adjusting to a new environment, I spent the first few nights in Tokyo lying in bed with my iPhone, checking up on the events of the day throughout the night. I was reading emails sent in the day and delivered to me in the wee hours, staring at the glowing screen. The artificial light source was certainly no aid in my jet lag recovery.
Finally, I decided to go "airplane mode" every night - something I usually do at home in NYC anyway, but seemed unsettling so far from home.
This past week I've taken it a step farther, committing to a full 30 minute pre-bed unplug. I've used this time to do anything from gentle stretching/rolling around on the floor to a timed seated meditation to lying on the bed with my legs up the wall before falling asleep.
Give it a try. Take a moment for yourself before bed to pause in silence. Recognize that you've done enough for one day and spend your final waking moments doing less.
I just returned from a lovely little Thai restaurant in Gotanda, the neighborhood I currently call home. I ate this soup in mindfulness (okay, I did take one photo when the food arrived). It was satisfying to the last drop. Now I will post, unplug, and unwind before bed.