Practicing Presence

Early last year Sojourners Magazine put out 10 Resolutions for 2015. I know we are a bit past that now, but one of the resolutions has really stuck with me.

“Practice presence: Spend less time with screens and more with books, less time with complaining and more with solving, less time with arguing and more with listening, less time with shopping and more time with being thankful, less time with worrying and more with exercising, less time obsessing about food and more time eating well, less time planning and more time doing, less time scheduling and more time living one day at a time.”

(If you want to check out the other 9, and I would recommend you do, you can do so here: https://sojo.net/articles/10-resolutions-2015 )

In an effort to practice presence during lent I have made 4 changes in my phone use that I have found really helpful.

  1. I am not using social media before noon. This isn’t strictly a phone thing, but it is something that I do mostly on my phone. The first week or so I found this quite difficult but I am now finding myself checking for the first time of the day at 2 or 3 in the afternoon. I do not feel the constant obligation to stay updated or respond to things straight away, which is quite nice.I am using my mornings more productively (and we know how I feel about productivity…)
  2. I have turned off nearly all notifications on my phone. I still have notifications on for text and Facebook inbox messages, and obviously calls, but everything else has been turned off. It is much easier to ignore an app without constant notifications popping up. Now, instead of wasting ten minutes scrolling down my newsfeed each time I check an individual notification I get on and check 10 at once and then have a look at what’s going on. Which means I am not absent-mindedly looking through the same stuff several times.
  3. I am leaving my phone outside of my room when I go to bed … sometimes. Ok, so I’m not perfect here, but I’m trying. I do find that I read much more when I leave my phone out of the room when I got to bed, which is something I want to do. I have found that there hasn’t been a single circumstance so far when I needed my phone during the night. Who knew?
  4. I have cleared my phone’s home screen. I have 4 apps at the bottom of my screen- Calls, texts, emails, and my camera. Everything else I have moved over to a secondary screen. Now when I look at my phone to return a text I don’t end up on Facebook or Pinterest just because I’ve seen them.

Screenshot_2016-03-05-17-49-44

Lest you think I am anti-facebook or holier-than-thou let me say: I love Facebook. I love WhatsApp. GroupMe is great and occasionally I remember that I have SnapChat and I fumble around trying to check my Snaps. I live far away from the vast majority of people that I care about. These apps give me not only the big life updates but also the random day-to-day stuff that make me feel more connected. I’m not trying to replace physical relationships with online interaction; I am doing the best I can to keep long-distance relationships healthy and Facebook, amongst others, helps me do that. Also, it’s just enjoyable.

So why am I cutting back?

I don’t dislike technology we just aren’t very good at using it in moderation. This is my attempt to do so. The average American watches 5 hours of TV PER DAY and research has recently shown that we use our phones twice as much as we believe we do, up to 5 hours a day (http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0139004). I feel strongly about living with intentionality. So rather than spending 15 minutes several times in a day flicking through my newsfeed (yeah guys, I have some time on my hands at the moment) I’d like to shoot out a few personal messages or texts. Instead of playing games on my phone at night I’d like to spend that time reading any of the dozens of books I have but haven’t read. Or… actually sleep. Instead of filling every spare second with something to entertain myself I’d like to feel comfortable with lulls. I find that I actually think about things when I’m not distracted. Sometimes they are important and sometimes not, but the space to reflect on either level has been lost in many of our lives. For some of us it was never there in the first place. Sometimes technology facilitates relationships, productivity, and knowledge; but sometimes it hinders them. I think it’s important that we learn to recognize which effect it is having and react accordingly.

It’s a work in progress but the more I practice the easier it seems to get. I’m just practicing practicing presence. I’m not there yet but so far I like the effects it has had.

I am reading more actual, physical books. I am reaching out to friends and family more often. I feel less distracted in general- better able to focus. Spending less time online makes me feel like my time is my own. I am not controlled by an app that needs to be checked (I know, dramatic, but it is genuinely freeing). I am writing again and spending time thinking- just thinking. Life has more space. Using social media mindfully is helping free me from the distraction of constant connection. I hope to have the discipline to continue in these endeavors of moderation when lent ends.

Today was the National Day of Unplugging. Did anyone try it? Would love to hear your thoughts.

Living and learning and doing my best to love.

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