I did it. Last week I began a week of reading and media deprivation lasting from Sunday evening to Sunday evening. I made it through the week. While the experiment yielded mixed results, it certainly made me aware of some of my habits and provided incentives to make some changes in how I spend my time.
Ignoring media inputs was difficult and I often had to consciously remind myself of what I was attempting — no reading books, newspapers, magazines; no reading online media, no radio and no TV — and that I had undertaken a week of deprivation to focus on my inner life processes. I wanted to pay attention to the present without the distractions of the external world.
The week was interesting. I learned quickly that external inputs are everywhere. I learned that I am addicted to CBC radio, that I have certain habits like reading in bed that are ingrained in my psyche, and that staying abreast of local, national and world events is part of my connection to the culture around me.
I confess that I did cheat a bit and peaked at a couple of emails. I also found myself opening a letter and looking through an investment report without even realizing that I was reading. It was an automatic and mindless reaction to the mail arriving. After that slip-up, I left all snail mail unopened for the week. I also nagged and cajoled my husband to tell me about interesting articles he was reading in the newspaper — especially about the crisis in Egypt and the snowstorm that hit most of Ontario last Wednesday.
So what were the benefits of ‘Cold Turkey’?
As I reflect on the week, it felt like a mini-retreat. My mind was clear. My concentration was better. I was able to completely focus on ‘the moment’ and on various projects because my brain was not multi-tasking. And every night I had vivid dreams that I could remember in the morning.
I became much more aware of my immediate environment, noticing small things around me — small things in the here and now. I listened to the quiet. On days when my husband was away, I found that I enjoyed the solitude of being in the house alone. I became mindful of the immediate experiences of the passing hours — sometimes slowly and sometimes in a flow where time did not matter.
The week offered a great opportunity to take stock of my life. I thought about the past six months since retirement, evaluated the highs and lows, and made mental notes of further changes I will make in the next six months. It was a week of thinking, remembering, planning and accepting.
To my surprise, I found myself more engaged in conversations with my husband without the distraction of a radio or television in the background. I listened more carefully to what he was telling me. When I was on the telephone with friends I was more engaged in the conversation. I also found several abandoned hobby projects when sorting through neglected drawers. To my surprise and delight I spent many hours on a long-forgotten embroidery project. I cooked every day. And I wrote — drafting several blog posts for future completion.
As the week ended, I was happy to re-engage with media and I spent most of Sunday night reading newspapers and magazines that had been stock-piled during the week while simultaneously catching bits of the super bowl game. And yes, I was aware that I was multi-tasking and happily distracted as I absorbed those events I had ‘missed’.
The week of media deprivation made me aware of many habits that I can modify or change to achieve islands of quiet in my life including how I try to focus on many activities at the same time — listening to TV or radio programs while reading or having a conversation without fully attending to either activity. It made me aware of the concept of mindfulness — living in the moment and paying attention to the present.
The week of deprivation also made me aware of the importance of staying connected with the world around me. Achieving a balance of moderate amounts of external input along with a healthy amount of quiet time or thinking time will be the ‘take away’ from this experiment.
I won’t repeat my experiment soon but I will be more conscious of the meaning of mindfulness. And I will try to retain awareness of how I allow habits, distractions and addictions to erode the experience of noticing things in the here and now. Living mindfully will always be a challenge — hopefully I won’t need drastic experiments to allow myself to enjoy the present without the constant distractions offered by the external environment.
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