System error, connection lost
These overnight flights to the UK — pretzeled up in the way back, I've long since given up any hopes of sleeping on them. I now look forward to these as semi-annual opportunities to catch up on all the films I've missed. There's nothing like watching a $200 million action blockbuster on an itty-bitty screen ten inches from my nose. Just the way they were meant to be enjoyed, right?
Arriving here in London for the week, my eyeballs like flaming maraschino cherries, first on my agenda is a cafe to regroup. I am on my own, which feels rare as a mother of young kids, and different to Bermuda, where it seems everyone either knows you (or your momma). Caffeine safely being administered, I pull out my phone to reconnect. I sit alone, sending texts, reading funny e-mails. I am aware the restaurant is filling up around me. At one point I look up, scanning the room, I notice that every single person in there has their head down, looking at some device. A phone, a tablet, a gamer — from three to 73, every one of them is connected at that moment … to a machine.
Spooky! I felt like I'd been warped into some Orwellian alter-reality. Then I realised, these are the times we live in. These were families, groups of friends, people getting ready to say goodbye to each other, or just saying hello. But there was hardly any talking. Admittedly it was still early, not everyone is firing on all cylinders by 9am, but I couldn't help being shocked, and slightly concerned by the scene.
At least I had an excuse, I thought, “I'm alone. I need company and to fill my time”. Really? Could I seriously not spend half an hour with myself, without some form of external distraction to plug into? So I decided to use the next few days on this trip as an experiment, exploring this idea, just to notice what I notice.
I put my phone away, didn't take out my book and just focused on enjoying my coffee. It took about seven minutes for my discomfort to get the better of me (and even that's probably being generous). I became aware of an acute urge to be entertained or busy. This sense of real ‘downtime' felt so foreign. I forced myself to sit with this boredom, and the anxiety that I'm not using my time ‘productively' and with even a sense of loneliness that came up. Just allowing the discomfort itself was a challenge.
When things feel difficult or awkward, how quickly we reach for a balm or a band-aid or just get the heck out of Dodge and avoid it altogether. But don't we have to go through a certain amount of stretch to breakthrough to anything new? Not pain for pain's sake, but if we can't handle anything outside of comfort, how can we grow?
I am reminded of lessons from my fabulous yoga teacher, Kerri. She has been saying this to me for years. That the challenges we face on the yoga mat: of our bodies stretching, finding courage to stick with it, being fully present in that moment, allowing that discomfort — all reflect and prepare us for the challenges we face out in the world. I never really got it, thought it was just a euphemism for “exercise is hard, it's gonna hurt a little if you want results — suck it up”. But now I see it.
I fall prey to the same temptation when I am in one of those poses, Squatting Dog with Frog in its Mouth or something. Either feeling a bit wobbly or sensing the slight burn of muscles working, I'm quick to get out of it, rescue myself from the discomfort and collapse on my mat and wait for the next contortion, which I will halfheartedly apply myself to … Hmmm. Just like switching over to someone/something else to entertain me when I find it difficult to be alone for five minutes. Is this how I want to respond in life when challenges arise?
Awareness of my difficulty in being alone isn't entirely new. Last year I went on a retreat, which included long periods of silent reflection. If you know me, I'm a talker. This was definitely a first for me, and the experience quite extraordinary. Sent into silence I was amazed how suddenly my inner voices became very loud … seemingly filling the gap that my mouth usually did. The internal dialogue was incessant. Noisy and mostly mundane, a horse racing commentator inside my head, giving me play-by-play of thoughts, concerns, feelings, fears, running though scenarios and conversations, many of which would likely never happen. Is it any wonder I'd opt to switch to some form of distraction to keep me from being subjected to all that?
But given enough time, even that inner commentator has to pause for breath and take a rest, either that or we just get used to the din and can somehow put it aside.
When we are no longer distracted, we can start to ask important questions, ones we want to hear the answers to. We can create bonds and develop an intimacy that is only possible when there is dedicated space and time and concentrated focus to do so. These are the foundations of building connection. As true for connecting with others as they are for connecting with ourselves.
What of connection — does it even matter? Children now will grow up not knowing a time without all these distractions and devices. I can look back and wonder what I ever did without my cell phone, but they won't. They have the ability to be ‘connected' globally to virtually anyone at any time and have entertainment constantly at their fingertips. When they go out to eat or socialise, eyes glued to screens and earphones in will be a norm. I don't say this in judgment, just to describe how this culture is already developing. What does this mean for us as individuals? And what do we do when the electricity goes off?
I've been dismayed to realise my own dependence on distraction and notice this habit I have formed. To me, finding comfort in aloneness is a healthy challenge. Can we put down the Candy Crush and dial into our inner selves for a change? I see it as an important basis for self-reliance and self-love. What benefits can we get when we face-to-face our friends and loved ones and delve beyond their current ‘status'? Can we sit with any discomfort that might arise from all this and see how we can grow from it?
Can we re-establish connection? Yes. But not tomorrow. I fly home and you can bet I'm plugging into the rest of those movies I didn't see on the way out. At least, can we find balance?
Julia Pitt is a trained Success Coach and certified NLP practitioner on the team at Benedict Associates. For further information contact Julia on (441) 705-7488, www.juliapittcoaching.com.