Mind the gap: digital edition

As you may know, we had a visit last week at PTC from Dr. Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, author of The Distraction Addiction and teacher of contemplative computing. He talked to us about some ways to tame the hold digital technology exerts on our attention, which can be  an issue for us at the monastery just as it might be for anyone who relies on technology in their work and daily life. Among the many topics he touched upon, one of the most immediately useful was “email apnea.” It seems that we users of digital devices have a tendency to hold our breath as we wait for our email to update. Though it may take just a few seconds each time, if we check frequently or have poor reception these intervals can add up to 15 minutes or more during the course of a day, or four 24-hour days over the span of a year.

What excellent news!

Simply through training ourselves to pay attention and breathe each time our email is loading, we can accomplish 15 minutes of meditation a day—4 full days and nights of practice a year—that takes ZERO time out of our schedule. This is a win-win situation, as both meditation and breathing are well-documented to enhance health and happiness.

Renowned Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh emphasizes the use of mindfulness bells—regular signals we can use to create gaps in which to breathe and “come back to ourselves.” At his centers throughout the world, actual bells are rung at random intervals for this purpose; but we can also make a reminder of whatever routinely presents itself in our daily life—a phone ring, a red traffic light, a walnut falling from the sky. Few things are more certain in this day and age than that we will need to check our email.

The gold standard for meditation is still finding one or two substantial stretches a day, say 10 minutes to half an hour, to really practice sitting with, observing, and relaxing into however things are internally and externally. But any meditation we do, even for a second, has an impact. From now on, I’ll be taking time to drop whatever I’m thinking about, breathe, and let my mind come to rest whenever I’m waiting to see what’s about to show up in my inbox.

p.s. As I write this, I’m backing up all my documents onto a flash drive, and Microsoft informs me that this will take some time. Opportunities abound!

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