Last updated November, 2019.
Before you scroll down...we keep this site ad-free for our readers. If you get value from what we write, please consider supporting us by checking out the overview for our best-selling work, "An owner's guide to the mind".
I recently attended a concert and was amazed at the sight of a sea of smartphones being held high in the air recording the event.
Reflect on the irony of going to a live show and recording it on your phone for later. Instead of enjoying the present moment and what is happening before your eyes, you are focused on capturing it to watch at some point "in the future."
The price we pay for trying to capture these moments for future reference is the absence of enjoying the moment as it happens right now.
Technology is a wonderful thing, but we can use it for not-so-wonderful purposes. I'm not trying to discourage you from capturing moments at important occasions. But, we do more than that: we try to "freeze" events for later instead of enjoying events as they occur. And, more often, we use technology to escape what's happening here and now altogether.
Have you looked around a busy restaurant lately? You see people sitting together, but not spending time together. They are on their phones texting, playing games, looking at social media, or browsing the web.
It seems all of us spend a lot of time somewhere other than where we actually are. Why?
Because we are lost in our minds, and our minds compulsively lead us around. They constantly churn out thoughts, emotions, and stories. They are never content with "here and now," and pull our attention to the past, future, or an alternate reality. Some examples:
In short, you are physically in one place but your mind takes you to another place. And, this happens all the time - we just aren't aware of it because it's our natural state of being (i.e., it happens all the time).
And, if we encounter moments of silence, we call them "awkward." They are uncomfortable, and we want to fill that silence with something. Anything!
The world around us is happy to oblige. We are constantly bombarded with stimuli: the next post, tweet, or picture...on-demand radio and television, games, ads, storefronts. The list goes on and on, as we're inundated with sights, sounds, smells...and our attention jumps from one "shiny object" to another (to another, to another).
Taking all of this into consideration, it should come as no surprise that when you identify with your mind, you are constantly restless. You are uncomfortable in the present moment, you are uncomfortable with silence, and you always want to be doing something other than what you are actually doing. As a result, you have an ongoing struggle with things like stress, feelings of anxiety and depression, problems focusing and being productive, a negative self-image, et cetera.
What's the solution to this problem?
Strengthen awareness of your mind and mental activity. Recognize how it captures your attention, and pushes and pulls you around.
How do you do that?
Sit down and focus your attention on your breath - breathe in and breathe out, and when you notice that your attention has wandered, simply return it to your breath. Notice and return, over and over again. This is the essence of mindfulness and meditation, and consistently doing this exercise will start you down the path of observing what happens without getting caught up in it (without getting swept away by it).
You will come to see thoughts aren't permanent - they arise and pass. And they aren't "you," because you can watch them as they arise and pass. Emotions arise and pass, too. And, what about that voice in your head that comments on and judges everything and everyone (including you!)? It arises and passes.
All of this can be observed. And, the better you get at observing it, the more you learn you don't have to indulge it. As such, you are able to start chipping away at the conditioned behavior you've been held hostage by, and the habitual actions (and reactions) that result.
In addition to strengthening awareness, make an effort to step away from the technology - even if it's just for small amounts of time. Put the phone on silent, turn off the monitor, or close the laptop; spend a few minutes enjoying your surroundings and the present moment. Go for a walk, and leave your devices at home.
Most of all, enjoy now NOW.
If this article resonated with you, you'll probably like this short video:
Stop getting caught up in the stories running through your head.