Twenty years after my father had quit smoking I would watch him tap his shirt pocket, looking for his pack of cigarettes. The habit was so ingrained in his DNA I’m not even sure he was aware of his actions. Finish a meal, tap the pocket, get in the car, tap the pocket, feel a little stressed, tap the pocket.
Today, I feel as I’m watching something similar, done over and over by nearly everyone, including myself. Pause in the conversation, take out the phone, waiting for an order, take out the phone, at a red light, take out the phone. I’ve caught myself looking at my phone within minutes of having just checked my updates.
So, we’re addicted to our phones. We basically know this. We also know the negative consequences. We know that we should back off, and sometimes we do for a few hours, but unplugging is surprisingly difficult.
This is not about the research and value of unplugging. This is about my experience and how it felt to unplug for 5 days. Actually, almost unplug for 5 days, I cheated once…just had to check that email.
I signed up for a yoga retreat in the mountains of California and there was no cell coverage. (Not unless you got in your car and drove around for 20 minutes trying to find a signal so you could check in and read those emails including the one that slightly derailed you and interrupted your concentration for a day!) But I digress. The one slip not withstanding, this is how it felt.
Day 1. The first night my little group met. We were there for yoga and meditation, unplugging was not our reason for coming, but it was pretty much the topic of conversation that first night. I had been 5 or 6 hours without contact and was already considering going out in search of a signal. I’m pretty sure I was experiencing some kind of withdrawal. I came to the retreat to relax and I felt panicky. The woman next to me, to whom I am forever grateful, tapped my arm and told me that it would get easier. Something in the way she said this told me that could also get better.
Day 2. Sunrise yoga followed by breakfast in silence…with no phone. Painfully awkward. Can’t figure out where to look? Down? Up? Make eye contact, don’t make eye contact? I really miss my phone.
Day 3. Breakfast was much easier. Made it though day 2 with lots of pocket tapping, becoming fully aware of all the times I would have pulled out my phone. Filled the space with conversation or simply paying attention to all that was going on and experiencing the beauty of my surroundings. Broke down and got in the car around 8pm and found a signal. Big mistake, lesson learned. The stress this caused made me acutely aware of how good I had felt before hand.
Day 4. Ok, I was at a yoga retreat in the mountains of California so to say life slowed down and was peaceful sounds pretty silly. But it did, and I will never know exactly how different this experience would have been if I had stayed connected. I vote for no cell = greater experience. I also noticed that taking the phone out of my life left a lot of time in the day. A class starting in 20 minutes meant 20 minutes to fill, not 20 minutes to spend.
Day 5. Time to go back to life. On my drive back to the airport I let the phone sit on the seat next to me for at least an hour. Earlier I thought I would jump on it as soon as possible but I found myself unwilling to get back, just yet. A bit afraid of it, yes. Excited to pick it up and reconnect, yes. Promise made to be more intentional in my habit, yes. Promise broken, sadly, yes.