Last week I discovered this funny new Super Bowl commercial in which Planet Earth unravels like a glitchy video game: gravity reverses, there’s a blizzard in Africa and a tsunami in Paris, a tree spontaneously combusts, priests loot an electronic store and dogs start walking people (don’t dogs do that now?). The big reveal is seeing God’s frustration as his cell phone loses battery, which explains the chaos.
What a great metaphor for our persistent modern anxiety around feeling disconnected from the outside world. Actually, it’s the deep anxiety we experience when we’re disconnected from ourselves.
A few years ago, I attended a workshop where I had to give up my iPhone for nine days.
At the time I was managing a touring music band. They would have two concerts while I was in that workshop, disconnected from all life outside that hotel. I was asked not to communicate with the outside world in any way: no newspapers, no TV, no phone calls, no pigeon carriers or yelling from my window for help.
The purpose of the workshop was to question all the stressful thoughts that happen everyday in my head. What better way to trigger stressful thoughts in this technological era than being without my “smart” phone for nine days!
You might be thinking, “What is he talking about? Was this some kind of new-age drug rehab or California hippie cult?”
No, I wasn’t in rehab and it wasn’t a cult. I was completely free to leave at any time and I didn’t have to hand over my bank account to some deluded skinny guy.
I went to this workshop because I had discovered that so much of my suffering in life was the result of my thoughts about things, and not the actual things themselves. For example, if my band didn’t breakthrough and succeed, I thought that would make me a shameful failure. A woman’s rejection could crush me if I thought her refusal meant I wasn’t worthy of love and affection. And so on.
I wanted to see what life might be like when I stop believing those stressful thoughts.
As I handed my cell phone in a brown paper bag over to the organizers, I felt nauseous. What if bad things happened that I couldn’t respond to and thus not control. What if the band messed things up? How would I live without my notifications! (see, just more stressful thoughts.)
When I handed in my phone, I felt really uneasy.
Nine days later, I didn’t want it back.
The unplugged experience was exhilarating. The clarity and inner comfort I connected with was deep. By not staring into my phone throughout the day, looking for some stimulating distraction or social media validation, I could simply be with myself, my creativity, the work I was doing, the amazing people around me. With no bright phone sending data into my face at bedtime, I slept more, too.
A few years later, I unplugged in a very different way that also gave me fascinating results.
I did a 30-day Dating Diet. I gave up sex, dating, and flirting for 30 days. That may not seem a long time, but I had been using female energy in all kinds of ways to make myself feel better, fill my emptiness, not feel lonely, that sort of thing. Similar to using my phone to distract me from the internal stuff I didn’t want to confront, going without female energy for 30 days felt like an eternity.
At the end of that 30-day Dating Diet, like when I disconnected from my phone, I had incredible clarity and insight. I discovered 3 profound things about how I had been behaving that changed my everyday life:
- I was addicted to the hope that someone would complete me. (Sound familiar?)
- I was ashamed of my sexuality. (I’m heterosexual, by the way)
- I was lonely and making choices everyday that only deepened that loneliness.
(I explain more about these discoveries here.)
Essentially, the Dating Diet, much like unplugging from my phone, completely changed the choices I make every day.
My orientation towards women is completely changed. I’m more aware when I start behaving in ways that only seek to fill up my pain rather than connect genuinely with a woman.
As for my phone, well, I’m still quick to grab my phone as I jump out to pump gas and bring it to the bathroom so often it’s miraculous I’ve never dropped it in a toilet. It’s still with me everywhere, but I’m more inclined to leave it behind as I run into the store or walk into a restaurant to meet a friend, because I know those moments can be profoundly calming, centering.
Beneath any angst of apparent disconnection there’s a rich contentment that invites me to simply be where I am; to actually pay attention to the person I’m with or walk through the grocery store inaccessible to the rest of the world for that fleeting moment.
Without that electronic universe of data in my hands, I quickly rediscover the rich, sensual real life universe in my midst. It’s so delicious, this human experience.
Here’s a few simple ways you can temporarily liberate yourself from your phone, as well, and rediscover your own fascinating human experience:
1) Leave it in the car.
Pump gas. Buy bread. Pick up your dry cleaning. Eat with your friend. You don’t need to fill every in-between moment with Facebook or email or crushing electronic candy. Instead, look around at the 3-D world of colors you’re immersed in. Listen to the wild array of sounds happening right now. Just enjoy being in your human body for a few moments.
2) Don’t bring it to bed.
Take your last look and turn it off before you enter your bedroom to sleep. If you use it for an alarm, leave it outside your room so you have to get out of bed to turn it off. Aren’t alarm clocks for actually getting us out of bed, anyway? You’ll get better rest in the morning and better remember your dreams, too, since you can’t just roll over and start dousing your brain with endless information.
3) Put it in the bowl.
Having a business meeting? A dinner party? Any kind of gathering involving people? Place a bowl by the door and ask attendees to put their phones in it as they arrive. Imagine: more productive distraction-free meetings, fully present party guests, people actually talking to each other – and maybe even listening, too!
4) Take a walk without it.
A recent study shows that simply walking for 8 minutes can significantly boost creativity. Study participants were not using phones, and some were even on treadmills staring at blank walls where their minds were invited to wander. So take a walk and let your mind roam free of its smart phone overlord for a few minutes. A short phone-free walk could inspire you to create something awesome and change your life for the better.
5) Put it in time-out.
Designate an hour a day or one evening a week to turn off your phone and put it in a drawer. Actually turning it off is important, at least for me. Sometimes I feel as though I’ve become psychologically connected to my smart phone like its my twin. Even when I can’t see it, knowing it’s still gathering intelligence can make me itchy to see what exciting new things it has come up with. When it’s switched off, I find it deeply calming that it’s now only a piece of shiny metal accumulating zero information.
There are surely countless ways to take a smart-phone break.
Doing so just helps us come home and spend some time with ourselves and the immediate world around us. It helps us stay connected to our bodies, connected to actual life.
Judging by the commercial, even God needs a break from his smart phone. I’m sure s/he can handle whatever stressful thoughts that might bring up.
p.s. Seriously … do your own 30-day Dating Diet. Take the challenge.