My doctor tried to pitch me on mindfulness. He swears by it — oh, and hot yoga. I’m not going to bore you with definitions — oh, what the hell. I will bore you with at least one, but just to make a point.
Here’s one definition: “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.”
Did you get all the way to the end? I didn’t, the first time I saw it.
More on that in a minute, but first, back to the doctor. He gave me a book to give me the tools to start consciously focusing on everything from my breathing to my heart rate, being aware of place and presence and surroundings as a way to deal with stress.
I didn’t read the whole thing.
I try the breathing sometimes, try to concentrate to the point that I can almost visualize air tumbling down the ridged tube of my windpipe, but then I start thinking about checking my phone.
I’m a bad mindfulness student.
I’ve realized lately that I’m going to have to get better.
Why? Perhaps because not one crucially important thing in my life has ever depended on an instant reaction to Facebook or Twitter.
Yet I am hooked to social media like a fish on a line.
It’s like being on call, all the time — but without the benefits of being paid for being on call. Having conversations molded into 140-character bites and short Facebook posts? Well, not only is it a truly unsuccessful method of discourse, it’s conditioning us to expect everything to work that way.
I am hobbled a bit by the fact that my job needs me to venture deep into the social media pool, and my endocrine system might be hooked on that apprehensive jolt of the new email or the five tweets as yet unread, but I’m not so far gone that I’m beyond help. Sure, I like to rush around the office telling people snippets of stuff like a chicken running around without its head, but I don’t believe I’m irredeemable.
It’s been a hard road, but I’ve been able to train myself to not even look at my phone for an hour or more while walking. I’ve tried to make those walks an integral part of my week. Maybe an hour without the phone can turn into two or three. Or a day.
It will be hard. I am afraid for those who are even more addicted than I am — and there are many.
Next, I hope to regain my ability to read. Books, that is. Right now, the only real time I’m able to sink deep into a book is in the enforced quiet time of travelling. Books and long-form journalism, even up into the 15,000-word range, used to be staple reading for me. Now, I find things painfully too long and boring — because I’m used to the sharp quick jolt of social media shots.
The withdrawal is brutal. When there’s nothing new on my Twitter feed or in the in-box, I get antsy and irritable, and I don’t know what to be doing with myself. Before, I would be working on a story. Now, I just twitch.
One of the things that has enabled humans to get so far in the world is the ability to concentrate on lengthy and sometimes complex problems. We really can’t afford to lose that.
Think of me as a big fat canary in a coalmine.
This stuff is getting real.
Russell Wangersky is TC Media’s Atlantic regional columnist. He can be reached — maybe not immediately, if he knows what’s good for him — at email@example.com — Twitter: @Wangersky.