There is one aspect of my life that makes me quite unusual amongst other “Gen-Xers” (members of my young-adult, 20-something generation); the most technologically advanced thing I own and commonly use is a “flip” phone. While others my age sitting next to me on public transportation feverishly text or check e-mail (or bounce back and forth between those tasks), I read or write – or stare off into space while lost in my thoughts.
Granted, it can be quite difficult to balance the demands of graduate school (at Lesley University), other professional tasks, and personal matters with the limited access to computers I can manage to obtain – an hour here, ten minutes there at a computer on the Lesley campus (and only on certain days of the week, given my hour-long commute there from my home). My distance from the latest technologies has had immeasurable benefits for my life, however, both personally and professionally. Those advantages are a large part of the reasoning for pratyahara, or sense withdrawal, one of Patanjali’s Eight Limbs. As I disconnected from an over-stimulating amount of sensory information from screens, the reduced amount that my senses then took in began to mean more for my overall subjective well-being. As the saying goes, less can be more.
I lost most of my devices (several laptops and “smart” phones, and an iPod shuffle a while back) due to technological failures. The breakdowns seemed catastrophic at the time. Those adversities were new opportunities, however, to fill the void of those broken devices with more presence, more authentic engagement in my here-and-now. I reflected a bit on this process for myself after reading one particularly poignant section in Marion Woodman’s The Pregnant Virgin Woodman.
Given my process of disconnecting from technology’s grip on my life, I heard my heart’s truths in the author’s statement that “[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][a] machine, however intricate, has no soul, nor does it move with the rhythms of instinct” (15). I can now more clearly understand that “[a] computer may be able to vomit out the facts of my existence, but it cannot….compute the depth and breadth of the human soul” (15). Some things are concrete – the number of unread messages in my e-mail inbox, the price of a book I would like to purchase – but those things are not all of life. While our technologies have granted society many incredible advancements, we are still the same humans with the same biological drives and needs – for relational connections, for the pleasures of our many senses, for engagements with our surrounding environments.
When those concrete things come to dominate experience, as began to happen to me with the pressures of higher education increasingly filling my life, life can lose the luster that makes it most worth living. I feel fortunate to have undergone this process of having to learn the hard way, so to speak, the value of remaining connected to life’s truest elements rather than constant absorption with screens and keypads. Now, rather than perfectly clean out my email I read a book that interests and educates me, or journal to beneficially process professional or personal matters. Or, I take a minute for an unexpected chat with a friendly fellow commuter or to simply close my eyes and check in with body sensations such as level of muscle tension and breath. All of that results in less anxiety and clearer thinking than I used to experience.
I see others in the grips of the technological addictions that were beginning to take hold of my life – not only 20 and 30 somethings (per the cultural cliché), yet also those younger and older. A part of me – perhaps that part that is now mindfully observing my process of technological disconnection – wants to help (at least some of) them see how they are becoming “cut off….from their own instincts” (15), as Woodman describes can happen. While giving them the full autonomy of choice over how they spend their time, I want to help them return to presence through the body and greater use of its connection to the mind.
I believe that yoga has much to offer in this regard, such as in leading individuals to more fully experience their bodies in space – beyond crouching over their phones and iPads, texting or surfing the internet. In any case, in whatever work I may come to engage in as a yoga instructor, becoming more present through my process of technological disconnecting will most likely help me to be more engaged with and helpful for whomever I come to serve. And along the way, I am happy to share my story of moving from attention to screens to that of my larger world – if it might be contextually appropriate and helpful for a fellow yoga practitioner or student. I believe that all yoga instructors can similarly set a positive example in this area, through our practices in mindfulness and pratyahara – being as we are among those living yoga as a lifestyle.
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