I confess to Almighty God, and to you, my brothers and sisters…that I am addicted to being plugged in. What? You may ask. Isn’t this the lady who goes off to a hermitage twice a year and wanders around in silence watching grasshoppers? You are right, ‘tis I. But let me tell you what I am fleeing FROM when I go to the hermitage.
Picture it: I’m sitting in my usual perch, on the couch. I have an iPad I’m playing Bingo on, a phone, handy and ready to receive texts or calls, a laptop open to a news site, AND, the TV is on. Yes, I live alone, but it’s like I have three clambering roommates, all wanting my attention! While attending to all these things at once may seem impressive, it really isn’t. I can try to figure out the “why” of it: I was an only child; perhaps I’m lonely? But just explaining it may not change it. Does it even need to be changed?
The other day, I arrived at the little gym in my apartment complex, and, to my horror, I’d forgotten my phone! How can I possibly set a good pace on the elliptical without music? How can I get through the whole forty minutes without the distraction of emails or news feed? Too lazy to go back and get my phone, I said to God, OK, I’ll give you this time…please do with it what you will. Somehow, I got through the whole time, at a decent pace, and the world continued spinning though I was not watching it. It was a fruitful time in that it illustrated how overly attached I really am to my devices.
Author and Christian mystic, Cynthia Bourgeault, has good advice for her wisdom school students for staying centered during this especially technology-heavy time. She says that for every hour spent online or plugged in, spend an hour unplugged and off-line. We are all probably spending more time online than ever due to the pandemic, so this advice seems worthwhile to try. Can I do it? I seek the quiet and unplugged-ness of the hermitage twice a year, but I psych myself up for that, knowing the time unfolds as God wills. But unplugging at home is always harder for me. I wonder if I can get rid of some of these noisy, demanding roommates as I begin this new year? (I always think of the new school year as a “new” year—good time for changes of habit!)
Former pastor and minimalist author Joshua Becker recommends setting aside certain times of the day to unplug, i.e. no technology the first (or last) hour of the day. Winding up or down without engaging in screen time allows us to clear our heads and prayerfully prepare for either the day ahead or a restful night’s sleep. He also promotes regularly taking a chunk of time off from technology, such as an afternoon, weekend or even extended period of time like for Lent. When I was a student in my Spiritual Direction program, I had what I called Silent Days each month, where I spent the day away from the computer, phone and TV. I found them so helpful for recharging and no one seemed to mind I was inaccessible for one day a month! That kind of discipline was easier when I was an instructional program, but it’s a wee bit harder now.
During this difficult time, when our personal interactions with each other may be limited, a phone call may be exactly what is needed to brighten another’s day. Especially for those who are isolated in care centers or even those in higher risk groups just staying tucked inside. Those phone calls are life-giving, and we need to try and meet those needs when we can. The kind of overly-plugged-in-ness I’m referring to is just that—over-the-top—three devices at once! Maybe spending too much time plugged in isn’t a problem for you. One way to find out is to try to unplug for a period of time and see how you feel. If you feel anxious and uncomfortable, your hands itching to reach for your phone, maybe it would help to give yourself a break from it for a while. I’m learning, again, filling time and headspace with continual news, Bingo and TV (all simultaneously!) is numbing, defeating, and unnecessary. With this writing, I resolve to try something new. The world will continue spinning without me monitoring it, I’m sure! And I will be better prepared to engage in real person-to-person encounters after prayerfully unplugging for a while.
Gracious God of solitude and silence…please help us all to seek these tremendous gifts you offer. Help us to be able to occasionally step back from all the technology keeping us engaged in the world. While we are grateful for technology helping us stay in touch with each other, we also need to keep in closer contact with you. That is easier as we embrace more stillness and silence. We can be more for each other as we draw closer to you. Amen!