“The awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.” –Jon Kabat-Zinn
“The practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.” Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
One of the ways that I identify if a trend has gone mainstream is to search the Harvard Business Review (HBR is my “go to” magazine, but any respectable business periodical or blog will do). Why? If you can monetize an idea, there’s a reasonable chance that it’s mainstream. Using that simple criterion, my search for “mindfulness” on HBR yielded 285 results. And here’s more proof: “Self-care apps topped Apple’s 2018 trends list, as consumers spent $32 million on mindfulness apps like Calm, Headspace and 10% Happier.” Individuals can enroll in university-level mindfulness classes or download an app, and a generation of kids in many public schools, after-school programs, and camps, are learning to be mindful. Practicing mindfulness is a booming, growing industry!
What is at the heart of this surge in mindful living? Technology enables us to do more and more by thinking less and less. For example, every time that you click on Amazon’s “suggestion” for your next book based on your browsing history, you diminish your ability to choose for yourself. When you finish an episode of your favorite show on Netflix and click on “next episode in 5 seconds (guilty as charged!),” you decrease awareness of choosing other options for spending your precious time. Mindfulness enthusiasts recognize that technology creates the illusion of choosing mindfully when, in reality, algorithms have contributed to making us choose mindlessly. The price that we pay for 24/7 connectivity is a disconnection from self-aware choices, and that’s a steep cost.
Committing to reducing our use of technology is the first step toward regaining greater self-awareness. For example, try turning off your smartphone (and watch) at mealtime or for 30 minutes each morning and afternoon. Once you become accustomed to being offline, do you enjoy dinner more with a 30-minute technology time out? Are you more productive during your 30-minute block of time that you’re offline then when you’re connected?
I’ve put these practices into place and, to gain the full benefit of my choice, I’ve also adjusted my attitude. When I power down for a block of time, I no longer think of what I’m losing, but what I’m gaining by being offline. For me, those benefits include a richer conversation with a family member or friend, higher concentration on a writing or consulting project, and spiritually reconnecting with myself. To be more mindful when I’m online, I browse other categories of literature than Amazon’s “suggested titles.” By doing so, I expand my curiosity and openness to new ideas and experiences. I’m also working on strategies that keep me from easy distractions like checking the news, unsubscribing to irrelevant listservs, and using my “block caller” function to minimize annoying marketers.
My colleague, Rabbi Jeffrey Schein, wrote in his recently published book, Text Me: Ancient Jewish Wisdom Meets Contemporary Technology (page 14), “Awash as we are in digital technologies, we…desperately need all the fences (that is, perspectives)…we can find as we try to understand the many ways that technology has reshaped our human and Jewish identities.” Mindfulness, in its secular and religious forms, provide that missing perspective. As the holidays approach and the year 2020 is on the near horizon, I’m committing to becoming more mindful beginning today. I’ve just started another 10-day mindfulness meditation course on my favorite app, InsightTimer! I know that I’ll have a “meeting of the minds” with many people who are also reclaiming mindful living.