A Simple Mindful Cell Phone Practice

Here's a short mindfulness practice to help you notice your reactions to the beeps and buzzes of your phone, and become aware of the stories and urges and emotions that it can bring up.

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I love my gadgets and my social media. But often I find myself checking my phone in the morning before I’ve even checked in with myself or my loved ones in person. How often have you tapped the glowing screen of your iPhone before getting out of bed in the morning? Where is your phone right now? How do you feel when you don’t know where it is? Do you usually keep it in your pocket, your bag, your desk, another room?

At the 2013 Wisdom 2.0 conference, a presenter from Google gave a simple demonstration. I’ve adapted it into the following practice, called the Seventy-Ninth Organ. Try it with your kids, but also try it with your adult friends and colleagues.

The Seventy-Ninth Organ: A Mindful Cell Phone Practice

The human body has seventy-eight organs. We need each organ to do its job well in order to keep our bodies healthy. If one stopped functioning, our biological systems would be quickly thrown out of balance.

These days, most of us also have a seventy-ninth organ, an external organ known as the smartphone. It’s with us in bed, in the bathroom, at the dinner table, at work—most of us keep it close by at all times. But in order to keep our relationship with our phone balanced and healthy, we need to check in with it now and then. Here’s a short practice for being more mindful with your phone:

  • Take out your phone now (if you don’t have it in your hand already).
  • Don’t turn it on.
  • Just notice how it feels in your hand.
  • Notice your emotions, your urges, your body’s response as you hold it—its familiar size, shape, and weight, suited to your hands.
  • Now find someone near you.
  • Turn on your phone and mindfully notice how you feel as the screen lights up.
  • Hand your phone to your partner.
  • Ask yourself these questions and be honest with your answers:
    1) How did it feel when you were asked to hand your phone to someone else?
    2) How did it feel to actually hand it to them?
    3) How do you feel when they are holding your phone?
  • After a moment, get your phone back.
  • Take a moment and reflect with your partner on this practice. What happened for you, and why do you think it did?

The goal here isn’t to resist or fight technology, but to make an ally of technology.

Consider those times you reach for your phone as an opportunity for a short mindfulness practice to check in with yourself.

The beeps and buzzes of our devices can also be reminders to take a breath or check in with ourselves. Mark Epstein, a psychiatrist and writer, suggests sometimes not shutting off the cell phone when you meditate. Instead, just sit in meditation and notice the body’s and the mind’s reactions to each beep and buzz of the phone, the stories and urges and emotions as they arise.

Just sit in meditation and notice the body’s and the mind’s reactions to each beep and buzz of the phone, the stories and urges and emotions as they arise.

We can also build subtle reminders into our devices, such as making the background wallpaper some kind of reminder to breathe or check in. How many times a day do we type a password into our devices? This too can be a reminder to be mindful if we make our password breathe or pause.