Have you noticed that the more access we have to the entire world, the less access we seem to have to everything and everyone around us? Including our thoughts?
While walking down the street in New York City recently, I noticed that no one was looking up – apparently, they used to say that only tourists do that – however, no one was looking forward or side-to-side either. As a matter of fact, no one was paying attention to where they were, or what was around them, everyone was busy looking at their smart phones.
The Big Apple Addiction
So, now my impression of The Big Apple happens to be in a different context – it’s more like “the big Apple addiction” (or Blackberry and Android for that matter).
While crossing a street, everyone was busy texting, emailing, finding their way through a Google Map, Facebooking, or talking on the phone. A number of times I found myself gently reaching my arm out to touch the shoulder of a person headed directly towards me to guide them away and avoid what would have been a head on collision…and just in time to hear a “thanks,” before lowering their head back to their device.
Have we all become so impartial to what and who surrounds us that we must divert our attention for more stimulation? Or have we become so attention deficit that we must have our minds focused on 12 things at once at all times?
Controlling Our Habits - Overstimulation vs. Pratyahara
Withdrawing from the senses, or more commonly known as “Pratyahara” in the Yoga Sutra is the 5th limb of yoga and it is concerned with taking us from attention to the outside/external world to our inside or internal world of thought. Pratyahara is an attempt to control the mind, pay attention and change our bad habits to help us build a more mindfulness about the world around us.
As humans, we seem to naturally seek stimulation as an escape from our thoughts or the silence around us. However, overuse of devices that constantly feed us information about the past and future can interfere with the ability to be present in every moment, and our ability to obtain Pratyahara.
“An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” they used to say. However, the modern day “Apple” (or Blackberry, or other smart devices) seem to cause more distractions from enjoying a healthy, mindful life.
The Smart Phone Challenge
Pratyahara might be one of the more difficult limbs to achieve, but I challenge you to reconnect with your surroundings by noticing what and who surrounds you when walking down the street, sitting in a park, or any other activity that might enjoy sitting (including driving a car). Notice those moments when you are looking to escape from your thoughts by seeking external mental stimulation using your smart phone.
Here is my challenge to you:
- Next time you feel the urge to pick up your device, stop and ask yourself, “why?”
- Ask yourself, “Could using the device in your current environment cause danger or an accident?”
- Ask yourself, “Will using this device take away from my full concentration and awareness needed in this moment?”
- Notice who or what is around you.
- Notice your breath.
As we become more aware of how we pay attention, we can let the distractions come and go without disrupting our focus, and perhaps guide us a bit closer towards Pratyahara.
By becoming more aware of the thoughts that lead you to focus on distractions, you can allow yourself to stop and listen to your own breath, and then perhaps the feel of your feet walking on the pavement, then eventually just what it feel like to be in that moment.