I have noticed during Lent that many people are taking “Facebook fast” or an “electronic Sabbath”. Our devices have become such an integral part of our lives that for most of us, cutting the electronic umbilical cord requires some effort of will.
Psychologists tell us that part of the allure of electronic devices is the constant flow of “new”. Updates, texts and instant messages flash and beep and actually seduce us with newness. After all, maybe that incoming message is really important…except that usually, it’s not.
Not only are there cultural norms that assume that we will answer every query, respond to every comment, but also, there is that sense that we are missing something if we don’t.
Taking a break from phones and tablets and computers helps us put them in perspective. The world still turns if we don’t check Facebook! We can talk to others face to face! There are these things called books that don’t have an on/off switch!
But I was also made aware this week of a more subtle change in our consciousness effected by our electronic minders. We hardly ever do one thing at a time. The multi-tasking made possible by handheld phones and smaller devices has made it seem normal to talk on the phone and drive or send texts while we are eating.
Years ago, I was visiting a parishioner who was having rehab at home after a stroke. She had progressed to the point where she could walk with a walker, but struggled to get up from her chair or transfer from a wheelchair to a walker. Her physical therapist was a young woman raised in India, who told me that she envisioned her work as “retraining people to work around their disability”. As she was practicing with her patient the techniques for transfer, she stopped suddenly and asked her “what are you thinking about”? My parishioner was a little surprised at the question and answered “well, getting across the room”. The PT sighed. “You Americans, you are always thinking about the goal. You are always thinking about one thing and doing another. While you are transferring, think only about what you are doing, what is moving, where your feet are. Once you do it, then think about the next step. If you get ahead of yourself, you will fall”.
I have thought about that advice many times. How often have I missed the moment because I was focused on the goal? How often have I stumbled over something on the way because I was thinking of something else? We can only fully focus on one thing at a time. Otherwise, we are not giving anything or anyone our full attention.
Today, try to pay attention to one thing at a time. Don’t rush ahead to the goal, but be fully in whatever you are doing currently. See if you feel a little less stressed.