This is a guest post by Kaira Jewel Lingo, a mindfulness teacher and spiritual mentor I've met last year at a wonderful retreat in Devon, UK. However, I have been using her guided meditations for many years in order to get some calm and ease in the middle of a busy day, or at the end of it. So it's a great pleasure to invite Kaira Jewel to teach us how to slow down and enjoy life around our screens:
Many of us spend much of our day on the Internet, focused on things like web development, UX, UI, marketing, or learning about the ever-fascinating world of ecommerce. Already surfing the Internet in our downtime for pleasure, shopping, or to read up on news can be quite addictive, all the more so when we must be online all day for our jobs and our income depends on rapid responses and quick decisions to market trends. It's so easy to get sucked down the rabbit hole and lose ourselves.
There are practices we can learn to help us to regain perspective, maintain our balance, joy, relaxation and ease and engage mindfully with technology. It's not easy, but it's extremely worthwhile.
Begin and end your day tech-free and with ease
We may turn on our phone or device first thing in the morning, and it may be the last thing we turn off just before bed. If this is the case for you, try creating some tech-free zones in your day, especially just after you wake up and before going to sleep. Instead of turning on your device immediately and using it all through the day, after you wake up, allow yourself to practice mindful breathing and feel you body before you get out of bed.
If you feel curageous, you may like to practice this mindfulness poem (or gatha) for waking up:
Then, slowly begin your day, maybe with mindful movement, sitting meditation, or taking a walk, or sitting and enjoying a cup of tea or coffee. Let the first part of your day create spaciousness for you, let it bring you joy and help your mind be calm. How you begin your day is very important as these first moments tend to influence the rest of our day.
Do the same in the last half hour of your day before you go to bed. Leave some time for yourself to reflect on the day, wind down and relax, without technology before you go to bed. You will sleep better with less stimulation just before bed.
Establish a mindful routine for beginning your time online
Before you turn on the computer/phone/device in the morning, pause and take a few deep, slow breaths. Be aware of your body and notice what is arising in your mind. Rather than turning on technology automatically and jumping right into action, be still.
Be aware that you are about to engage with something enormously powerful, that has the capacity to seduce you into spending hours and hours on it, forgetting that you have a body, forgetting to eat and get up and stretch. Be aware of the great force of technology you are about to meet and get yourself mentally and emotionally ready for this meeting.
Your mindful routine might include some of the following elements, or you may have your own ideas for how to begin your time online with awareness.
Set your intention for the day
Set an intention for how you would like to interact with this technology today. Rather than being controlled by it, see yourself in your mind’s eye taking regular pauses to stretch, to take care of your body, to give your mind a break from constant input. At least every hour plan to take a break, to get up and move around and look out into the distance.
Also decide what are the 3 most important things you need to do today. Write them down. Once you begin working, focus first on these things before you do anything else. This includes not checking email or social media, if they are unrelated to these 3 tasks.
Give room for Gratitude
Now smile. Let your body relax in your chair. Give rise to a feeling of gratitude for all that the Internet allows you to do. With it, you can connect to so many others. With it, you can also be influenced, in helpful or unhelpful ways, by so many others. Make a strong intention to use it mindfully and for the good of yourself and others. Set the intention also to avoid using the Internet in ways that are harmful to yourself and others.
Turn on your device(s) mindfully
Now you may feel ready to turn on your device(s). There is a mindfulness reflection or poem you can contemplate as you do so:
Turning on this device
My individual mind is in touch with the power of the collective mind
I vow to transform compulsive habits
To help love and understanding grow
Breathe deeply and be aware of your body as you turn on your device. Try to release tension and stay aware of your body and posture as you use the device.
Staying mindful as you work
Take regular breaks
Set a timer or use an app to help you remember to take regular breaks from your work. Make sure to move away from your device and walk around, stretch, look into the distance and release tension from your body. Take at least 3 mindful breaths, breathing in, knowing you are breathing in, breathing out and knowing you are breathing out. Once an hour, or more often, is helpful and will keep your body from getting stiff and also help you assess if you are using your time wisely or getting caught in addictive, unhelpful or unskillful habits. Take 1-5 minutes for your break, maybe even lying down briefly to let your body rest.
The Time Out? App and other apps? will darken your screen briefly on a regular basis for shorter breaks and for longer times for longer breaks that you can program.
Every three hours or so, plan to take a longer break of 15-30 minutes. Perhaps you can go outside for fresh air, dance around to your favorite music, or do some physical task that helps you get in your body.
Have a clear ending time for your work as well. A time after which you will not continue working. It is important to set limits. You can program your app to make the screen go dark at a certain time or even prevent you from continuing to work.
Eat away from your work
If you tend to eat many of your meals or snacks at your computer or while on your device, make a new habit of taking at least one of your meals away from work. Sit down at a table where you will not be distracted by your work, with things around you that are relaxing and pleasant to look at. The space you eat in might have a house plant or a painting or drawing nearby, or other things that bring you joy. You might also try playing relaxing or inspiring music. Try to enjoy your meal without any technology or things that remind you of work. As much as you can, get in touch with the food you are eating and enjoy it. Notice the smells, textures, tastes and how the food feels as it travels down to your stomach. Invite gratitude for all the work needed to produce the food on your plate.
Do one thing at a time
One of the things that creates stress and tension is when we try to do too many things at once. We may be moving between email, texts, phone calls, researching something online with multiple pages open, filling out a form, and posting on Facebook all within a few minutes.
Instead, try doing one thing at a time. Set aside time just to answer email and do nothing else in this time. Scan over your inbox to see which are the most important messages and deal with those first. When you open an email, read it and answer it before you move onto the next one. Take a breath and pause after you finish one email before moving onto the next. Once you have finished all your emails, take a breath and pause before moving onto the next job.
Also try to group your phone calls as much as possible to do those in one batch so that you are not moving between calls and other tasks. Do the same with your texts, so that you have a dedicated time to just go through your text messages and reply to them. Again, pause and breathe in between each call, or in between each text message, and pause after your batch of calls or texts is done.
When you are working online, just keep open the pages that you need and close the rest. We easily get distracted if we move from one thing to the next and we can lose sight of what is really important and waste time and energy on unnecessary things.
It is very important to establish a clear stopping point for your workday. If you leave home to go to your workplace, and especially if you work from home or remotely, if you don’t have clear boundaries, your work can easily consume your life. You may feel you need to be online constantly, staying up late into the night and having no time to yourself to rest and recover.
It is very important to stop, let go and restore our freshness. We all have freshness inside of us. This is our curiosity, enthusiasm, joy of living, and childlike interest in learning and discovering things. This freshness gets dulled and depleted on if we do not rest and take care of our energy. We soon become grumpy and disinterested in anything but trying to get ahead and make more money, be more successful. Wanting to be successful is important but we must investigate how we define success. True success is maintaining our freshness and living happily, able to bring peace and happiness to others.
You may want to establish at the beginning of each day what time you will stop your work (online or offline) and stick to it. Staying up late on a computer or device can cause insomnia as the light from the device stimulates our brain making us think its daytime so we can’t wind down and sleep.
Knowing when its time to stop is difficult. The later I stay up at night, the more I lose the capacity to realize how tired I am. The more tired I am, the more incapable I am of turning off the computer or phone or device. Even though I’m no longer productive in my work, I can’t think clearly because I’m so fatigued and so I continue to ‘work,’ reading something but having no idea of what I’m reading, and often falling asleep at the computer. It's like a child that is so tired but resists going to bed. We can be a good parent to this tired child in us, and turn off the tech devices and screens at a reasonable hour. A helpful approach is to set a time each evening after which we are no longer online or working. Some nights I practice to turn off the computer at 9pm and then I meditate, read, or do calming things that help me to sleep. I also decided to ask a friend to meditate with me over the phone, one evening a week at 9pm so that I would have support to stop my work on time (consciously turning off the computer), meditate and go to bed.
Establish a mindful routine for ending your time online
Turn off your device(s) mindfully
A benefit of deciding in advance what time you will stop working in the evening is that you can also create a routine around ending your work and turning off your device(s), just as you did for beginning your work and turning your device(s) on. You can plan it so that you are still fresh and energetic enough to close out your work time with awareness and creativity.
At the end of your workday, take three deep breaths as you shut down your device. Be grateful for all that the Internet and technology have allowed you to do that day.
Reflect on what you have done that day. Look back at the 3 most important things you planned to do at the outset of your day. Anything you didn’t finish can become the priority for the next day. Now it is time to let everything on your list go and know that you have done your best today. Appreciate yourself for all that you have accomplished.
Planning some activity that you enjoy before bed can give you something to look forward to and be an incentive to getting off your device(s) at a reasonable hour. If you like reading, having a bath, knitting, listening to music, or speaking with a friend, you might plan a pleasurable, interactive or nourishing activity like this that can take the place of staying online. This way you are drawn to do something else at the end of the day and you can resist the pull to stay up late on your device.