Ok…I’m outing myself. I was driving the other day with my mind wandering off the road and onto an idea for a wonderful blog that really got to the heart of people nowadays being potentially over-connected to a point where there isn’t time for oneself or to just be still. Very little effort is made to unplug as Therese Borchard courageously experimented with. So there I was driving, only to look up and find that I was three exits past where I needed to get off. Talk about being on auto-pilot. Sound familiar?
When you first learn how to drive a car, you need to think about all the intricate movements and are so present to where the foot is and where the hand needs to be placed. When driving through a new neighborhood, you’re very attentive to the street signs. But when things are familiar, the mind says “I got it, go ahead and take a break, let the mind wander a bit.” There may be nothing wrong with this, in fact, it could very well be where many creative ideas are born (e.g. new blogs). However, in an age where there is an overwhelming amount of things to connect to, we may be overconnected to a point where we become disconnected from ourselves.
I live in Los Angeles and was recently walking by the beach and watching people whizzing by on their bikes, people jogging and families taking walks. As I took a closer look I noticed that many of the people were carrying on conversations with their imaginary friends (aka their phones). Even the father of a family walking was glued to his Blackberry, furiously typing out some text or email. I looked to the right and saw the ocean and thought to myself: it is so easy now to not spend time with our thoughts, feelings, or emotions. It is so easy now to disconnect from the here and now and check out through technology. Now, I’m a big defender of technology—I actually think it can be enormously helpful—but if abused, it can take us away from a critical element of life that can be so supportive to our mental health…simply being present to life.
Sometimes I ask people to take a log of the day to see how much time they spend on email, the web, the cell phone, and television. I also ask if there is any time at all spent just with yourself, not connected to any of these things? The overwhelming majority of answers that come back report that there is close to no time spent alone and a greater part of the day is spent connected to this technology. Without an awareness of this, years can go by only for us to look back and say “where did it all go?”
There is no question, when struggling with anxiety or depression it can be painful to spend time with ourselves. But it’s in this acknowledgment of the reality of the present moment that we begin to cultivate compassion and empathy for ourselves and others. These are the seeds of healing.
So practice watering these seeds, unplug this week from time to time, even for a few moments at a time, and check in with yourself. What is on your mind? How are you feeling, physically and emotionally? If you’re not feeling well, what can you do to care for yourself, to show yourself some compassion? Take a few breaths and then choose do one of those things.
How often do you catch yourself on auto-pilot? How much of the day are you connected to email, the web, the cell phone, or television? As an experiment, what would it be like to disconnect from one of these from time to time?
Elisha Goldstein is a clinical psychologist and conducts a private practice in West Los Angeles. He is co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook (New Harbinger). Visit his mindfulness and psychotherapy blog on PsychCentral.com.