Stillness cultivates awareness.
I was sitting a table having dinner with three of my co-workers, only one of which I knew really well. I believe it was the summer of 2003 and we were in New Orleans for a conference. While jazz was playing in the background and servers were swinging by with Hurricanes, I was having a conversation with Shira, who I didn't know super well, and she mentioned that she was an Orthodox Jew, which eventually got us talking about shabbat. Growing up as a Catholic and attending Catholic schools through college, I had heard about keeping Sabbath and generally, what that meant, but I was still really curious. I had so many questions about how it really worked and what it was like not using electricity or a car for an extended period of time each week. Luckily, Shira had a lot of patience with me, especially considering I was apparently living in some sort of Catholic "bubble." Shira shared with me her personal practice of taking time each week to be still with family or friends and just enjoy each other, spending time talking or playing games. I remember her specifically mentioning that not using electricity or driving for that period of time each week made her more aware of and more grateful for what she had when it was available to her.
Fast forward to today. After work, I spent about two hours catching up with my parents and my sister on the phone... yes, two hours. It was wonderful, but it was soon 4pm and I had not yet eaten lunch. So, I ran out of the house to head to one of my favorite restaurants about three blocks away. After walking about a block, I realized I had forgotten something at home - my phone. I immediately thought: "Should I go back home? Hmm, maybe not. I mean, I'm not going to be that long. But what if I want to take a picture of my food? Probably not necessary. My parents won't call and be worried if I don't pick up since I just spoke to them. But what will I do when I'm waiting for my food. Oh, wait I do have a book in my purse. Okay, I can read I guess."
I have no idea how I managed the rest of the walk without my phone [read in sarcastic tone], but I arrived to the restaurant and was seated at the end of the bar next to two women enjoying Happy Hour. They both had their phones out on the bar, which I also would have done if only I hadn't left mine at home. I placed my order with the bartender and then reached into my bag. I would usually be reaching in to look for my phone so I could proceed to scroll aimlessly through whatever caught my eye. But today, with my little phone sitting at home, I reached in for a book - Chris Guillebeau's latest, Born For This. I was intentionally holding off on starting it since last time I read one of his books, I ended up resigning from my job. I just wanted to be on stronger ground before turning those sort of pages again. But, it would keep me busy while waiting for my food and prevent me from awkwardly staring at the servers setting up for dinner service or eavesdropping on the two women sitting next to me.
I ended up reading nearly 100 pages (and I'm not a reader, at all). I also had a great conversation with the bartender about what we each think we are born to do and after disclosing to him that I'm reading mainly because I left my phone at home, we also talked about the reality of what our lives are now - somewhat addicted to our phones. As a bartender, he has a unique look into how these little computers affect the flow of a table and even the flow of the restaurant if, for instance, guests are so busy on their phones that they don't take the time to look at the menu to be ready to order. When I worked as a server, I loved observing how people interacted with each other at a table - were they best friends, new friends, close family, on a first date, on a last date? At that time, cell phones were around, but they weren't part of the table setting as they are now. Nowadays, when I am out to eat and look around to see a couple or parents out with their little kids and I notice one or both adults on their phones, my heart breaks - here they are in their own little worlds when a whole big world could be sitting right across from them. And then I look down, and realize my phone is out and on the table or maybe even in my hand, ready for the second I get uncomfortable with silence or simply bored. It's such a strange reality.
My experience today has me feeling like I should and could use my own day of rest, without the "noise" of scrolling through social media feeds or notifications, checking email, or watching the news. What could be possible by taking time each week to not have those distractions to focus on and to instead, sit in stillness and "be in the now" of connecting to yourself, and others. Jonathan Fields said, "Stillness cultivates awareness. The moments of stillness are the heartbeat of awareness." I believe these moments of stillness can exist differently for each of us whether it's yoga, meditation, shabbat, praying, walking in nature or any other practice that quiets you - your mind, your heart, and your soul - and enables you to grow in gratitude and awareness. And I don't know about you, but when I picture this moment of quiet and gratitude in my mind, I don't see a little phone sitting next to me...
I'm actually really happy that I didn't go back and get my phone earlier today. Even though it was just for two hours, I will be making a practice of it a lot more, moving forward.