Often we think that technology and mindfulness are opposites. We think they’re at odds. When we think about practicing mindfulness or meditation, we think about putting away our phones. We think about turning off the TV. We think about shutting down all our devices. We think about digital detoxes.
But technology and mindfulness actually aren’t so incompatible. Even more, we can use technology to help us practice mindfulness.
In fact, we can think of mindfulness as technology. According to Rohan Gunatillake in his powerful, practical book Modern Mindfulness: How to Be More Relaxed, Focused, and Kind While Living in a Fast, Digital, Always-On World, “If technology is a set of tools and methods employed to solve certain problems or achieve certain objectives, then meditation is absolutely that.”
The key difference, he writes, is that meditation works mainly on inner objectives. It helps us develop self-awareness, patience and openness. Which is vital for everything from not becoming overwhelmed to being more human, writes Gunatillake, who’s the founder of Mindfulness Everywhere, a creative studio that combines meditation, technology and design.
The reality is that we are surrounded by technology. It’s part of our everyday. For most of us it’s how we work and play. While taking digital detoxes is important, applying awareness to whatever we’re doing, wherever we are, is vital, too (and liberating). Which is what Gunatillake’s wonderful book is all about. As he writes, “At [the book’s] heart is a fresh, new perspective of mobile mindfulness that meets us where we are, and embraces the realities of our modern lives, charger cables and all.”
Below are five ways we can use technology to practice mindfulness from Gunatillake’s book.
Bring awareness to your body—and your phone. I’ve joked that my computer is another appendage. You probably feel the same way about your smartphone. After all, we keep these devices so close to us, and check them so regularly that they feel like extensions of our bodies.
Well, you can use this idea to practice mindfulness. “The average person checks their phone up to a hundred times a day,” Gunatillake writes. “That is a hundred opportunities to be aware of our body.”
The next time you pick up your phone, pay attention to the physical experience of doing so. What is it like to hold your phone? What different textures make up your phone? What do the buttons feel like? What is the temperature? How does the touchscreen feel?
Pay attention to a podcast. Pick a favorite podcast to listen to, which lasts about 15 to 20 minutes. Use headphones. Sit in a chair or on the floor in meditation posture. Start the podcast, and listen as closely as you can. When you get distracted, bring your attention back to the podcast. If you miss the content, rewind and listen again.
According to Gunatillake, this not only helps you train your concentration but it also helps you practice your posture. When you’re ready, you can increase your podcast-listening time to 30 to 45 minutes. Or you can listen to a 15-minute podcast, and spend the rest of the time sitting in silence.
Watch yourself surf the web. “The internet is full of things that get us going, creating reactions that run the full range of the emotional spectrum,” Gunatillake writes. This is a good opportunity to pay attention to these reactions (instead of getting entangled with our emotions).
“Pay attention to how your body and mind react when you come across your favorite websites. Notice how you get drawn into some stories and pictures and not into others. Watch how boredom arises as you read an article and start looking for something else. Watch your heart open when you come across an uplifting story…” Gunatillake writes.
Notice your checking and scrolling. First, notice when you’re reaching for your phone, starting to scroll social media or thinking about checking your inbox. In other words, become aware of yourself checking your device. Then notice if any emotions precede the movement. For instance, Gunatillake noticed that he’d check his phone whenever he felt bored or lonely.
“When you are able to notice that snippet of emotion and leave it as it is, just by having that level of awareness in that moment can cut out the habit of constant checking,” Gunatillake writes. “This starts to short-circuit the need to fix the boredom or loneliness and you are able to let it fizzle itself out.”
Watch the TV. That is, instead of focusing on the content—the show, the movie—focus on the actual screen: “the frame, the reflection, the edges.” Keep switching from watching the content to watching the screen. And notice how each type of attention is different.
According to Gunatillake, “This may seem like a funny little mindfulness game but it is surprisingly close to deep insight techniques where instead of the screen of the TV we start to pay attention to the screen of our actual awareness.”
Today, we tend to view technology as an obstacle to being mindful. And sometimes it absolutely is. But it doesn’t have to be. It doesn’t have to be “either, or.” It can be “both, and.” We can use technology to pay attention to our surroundings, to really look, to really listen to our everyday. And, ultimately, we can use technology to reconnect. To ourselves.