Cultivating Mindful Living

It’s been about a month since I resolved to stay off Social Media and avoid mindless internet browsing until after 12 pm.

Honestly, I felt the benefits of this from day 1. Mornings, especially mornings where I have to be somewhere by a particular time, are much less rushed. I feel calmer without all of the “noise” that accompanies social media posts (think politics) and the internet in general.

That being said, I still have moments where I am uncomfortable; moments when I instinctively reach for my phone as a distraction. I think I am still learning just how much this dumb rectangle has enslaved me.

If there’s a lull in conversation, keep occupied with the phone. If I’m waiting for someone to arrive, keep occupied with the phone. If I’m not ready to jump into the days activities and feel like lingering longer, keep occupied with the phone.

I’ll be honest and tell you that I’ve cheated on some of my mindfulness goals a time or two. Like popping on HGTV with my Sling TV app during lunch this past weekend (which I haven’t done in WEEKS) because, in my own words, “It’s the weekend and I don’t care.” I’ve opened social media roughly 3-5 times before 12 pm; most times I caught myself and closed it. Other times I was actually looking for something specific (like testing how quickly WordPress publishes my  blogs on Facebook after I linked the two).

It’s definitely challenging to just BE in those blank spaces of life and that is the thing I want to work on the most. The truth is, learning to be mindful is not easy-it’s work. But I believe if I keep working at it, mindful living will become my habit rather than acquiescing to constantly available distractions and an inability to focus.

After several weeks of eating my breakfast in solitude at the little table off the kitchen by myself, it still feels weird to sit in silence and NOT be playing on my phone or iPad. It still feels like an effort sometimes. Yet I know it’s fostering more of a sense of calm in me as I start my days. It’s forcing me to be present, be in the now.

And that’s truly one of my big life goals: to live as much in the here and now as possible. We’ve all heard “take it one day at a time” so often that it hardly holds meaning anymore. But if most of us would stop and think about that, I think we’d realize that perhaps we spend a lot less time in the here and now than we should.

The Bible says that God gives us grace for each day; that we ought not to worry about the

enjoy the journey
Photo taken: Kennesaw Mountain, GA

future. To me, living mindfully and focusing on His presence through each part of my day is the ultimate freedom. Not worrying about tonight or tomorrow or next week/month/year. Not being so preoccupied by stuff or my to-do list or what I want to accomplish that I lose sight of what’s truly important in life.

I want my journeys to be as full of love and joy as my destinations. And it is in the seemingly mundane moments of life these past several weeks that I’ve seen the power of a daily focus on God’s presence and the present. I’ve seen more beautifully colored flowers and trees while driving to and from my normal weekly destinations. I’ve heard more bird songs as I’ve sat quietly with no distractions on the front porch. I’ve smiled at more strangers while I grocery shop.

The big moments of life are certainly great, but it is when I’m present enough today to notice the tiny ones that my heart explodes with joy, gratitude, and love for the journey itself.

The Power of Noticing Things

People are busy these days.  Busy and distracted.  If you pause and look around at any given point in your day, I bet you’ll see a lot of people staring down at their phones, oblivious to the life that’s parading right in front of them.

Sometimes, I am that person.  But I don’t want to be that person. Because life is too short to miss out on the beauty and wonder that’s around us every day.  There is nothing quite like taking a breath, looking up, looking around and simply noticing things.  No matter where you are, there are beautiful things to notice.  The powerful act of noticing can lead to a thankful heart, which can lead to love, surprise, joy, selflessness and ultimately, contentment. Remember that we can’t appreciate or be thankful for something that we are too distracted to see!

Challenge yourself to slow down in small ways.  Eat meals with your loved ones without

the power of noticing
Photo taken: Gibbs Gardens; Ball Ground, GA

any distractions from phones, computers or the TV.  Go outside for a walk, long or short, each day. Take 10 seconds to write a little note for someone you love.  Notice other people in your path and smile.

Perhaps there is a place or space that particularly speaks to your soul.  Go there sometimes. I have a particular affinity for the ocean and fields of flowers. Alas, I cannot be by the ocean or in a field of flowers at all times.  But that doesn’t mean I’m not surrounded by beauty; that I can’t seek it and find it.

If I slow down and look for it, I always find it.  It incites a childlike whimsy in me that I quite love.  If am intent on noticing things, looking for beauty, I find it in a perfect spring breeze blowing through my hair as I take my dog for a walk in the morning.  I see it in the little buds that have suddenly popped into bright pink spring flowers outside my dining room window.  I see it in the faces of my loved ones, in kindness from strangers, in kitty purrs.

What types of things are you most likely to notice?  What speaks to your soul?  The stars, the way a bridge is constructed, the changing of the leaves in the fall or smiles from a stranger on the street? I bet if you take even a few minutes each day to look up from whatever is distracting you, you can find a little piece of refreshment for your soul. Better yet, perhaps you will pause long enough to notice that you could offer a bit of refreshment to someone else’s soul.

Want to simplify your life?  Look up from your phone, look away from yourself and start looking for the beauty all around you-I promise you will find it.

Digital Challenge: Limiting Social Media

Up until now, the biggest focus of my journey to simplify life has been paring down our possessions.  I believe we still have some work to be done there and it will require a constant vigilance about what possessions we allow into our home moving forward.  In other words, that journey may never be fully “complete” but that’s OK.

Life itself is a journey, and we may never come to a place where we’ve “arrived” fully. There was a time when I would have been reluctant to accept that, but I’m learning that regular growth and change are good for us.  Challenging ourselves to new things keeps life exciting!  Even if it’s scary or takes a lot of effort sometimes.

One of the things I struggle with is feeling overwhelmed with plans and obligations and places to be and things I want to do.  There never seems to be enough TIME.

Last summer, I made the difficult decision to leave my job and take a year off to let God lead me wherever He chooses.  Yet somehow, I still find myself feeling overwhelmed with everything that I need or want to do.

For whatever reason, one of my biggest struggles is getting myself together in the morning.  In my ideal world, I’d be up and at ’em at 7am, bed made, exercise clothes on by 7:15, breakfast and quiet time and caring for my menagerie of animals finished no later than 8am.  I’d spring out the door, work out, and be ready to charge into the rest of my day well before lunch time.  It never works this way.

spend time on what is important
Photo taken in San Diego, CA

So, I’ve been more carefully examining my morning habits.  I cherish the quiet times I spend before launching into any of the day’s activities, and that is always a priority for me. I do not and will not put a time limit on that. Sometimes a cat throws up, or my dog forgets how to pee in the yard and just stands there looking at me.  Those things will happen from time to time.  But I’ve determined that the biggest time-sucking culprit in my morning routine is social media.

 

You guys, sometimes I don’t even THINK before reaching for my phone and popping Facebook open to mindlessly scroll.  That can mean I lay in bed for who knows how long instead of getting up because it is an evil time-suck.

During or after my quiet times, I can usually be found, iPad in hand, with distractions begging for my attention.  A Pinterest notification, or an interesting sounding article I saw earlier on Facebook and now want to read.

And of course, even though I know better, I am guilty of clicking on idiotic articles with extreme titles like: “The ONE thing you should NEVER eat!!!” or “Guy visits [insert political candidate here] Rally and is Stunned When He Sees THIS!!”  You know what I mean.  Sometimes, your curiosity gets the better of you.  Other times, you know you’re entering into a war zone of horrible comments from internet trolls but you scroll through them anyways.

While there are many edifying and worthwhile websites that Facebook or Twitter might link me to (Becoming Minimalist, No Sidebar and Be More With Less to name a few), most of what clamors for my attention on Social Media is just not worth the time it takes up.

In fact, I believe that we have allowed smart phones and social media to distract us to the point that we live half our lives with screens rather than other human beings.  Our attention spans are suffering.

Let’s be honest with ourselves about our habits.  How much time are you spending each day on things that aren’t even important to you?  What are the top 5 (or 20!) most important things to you?  In life?  Each day?  I’m willing to bet if you wrote such a list, scrolling through social media wouldn’t be on it.

It’s not on mine, either.  So, I am proposing a challenge.  To myself and anyone else who wants to reclaim time lost chasing the unimportant.  Here’s what I’m planning to do for the next 30 days:

  1. Disable social media notifications on my phone and ipad.
  2. No time spent on social media sites until after 12pm.

You may want to tweak or change these goals so they make sense for you personally.  But I want my mornings back, free from social media.  If I want to read an article from Becoming Minimalist, I can visit the website and read it intentionally.  Not just because I stumbled across it while mindlessly scrolling through my Facebook feed.

Cheers to simplifying the morning routine!

 

 

In Search of Digital Simplicity

You know….my pursuit of eliminating unused and unnecessary physical “stuff” has me thinking about “digital simplicity”.  I’ve been pondering the effects of cleaning up digital spaces as well as eliminating screen time.

Could cleaning up digital spaces have a similar effect on stress levels as cleaning out closets?  E-mails and files may not necessarily spark joy, although the KonMari method allows for a utilitarian defense for keeping some items (think tools).

After rummaging through CDs and DVDs, I decided to go through all my music and playlists on iTunes.  It felt refreshing to do that; to remove songs that I no longer enjoy, or that don’t really represent anything important to me.  (Plus, next time I shuffle my iPod during a workout, I won’t have to skip over 30 Christmas songs).  So I suspect that cleaning out old files on the computer could have a similar effect.

But I also think that the magic of “digital” can mean throwing away physical stuff, but scanning and keeping it in digital form (here’s looking at you, yearbooks).  So maybe a computer “cluttered” with old things doesn’t need to be purged.  Who knows!!  In any case, I’m considering tackling this sort of project as well.

I can’t talk about digital simplicity without discussing the other part of digital living: screen time.  I don’t know about you, but sometimes I could just scream when I look around the room and all the people I’m physically with are glued to their smart

smart phones
This is a for real Instagram photo I posted on Thanksgiving Day 2014.  Faces hidden to protect the perpetrators whom I did not feel like asking for permission to post their mugs.

phones. And I’m one of the guiltiest! I love having information at my fingertips; my brain hardly ever stops long enough NOT to google “what to do with old yearbooks” or “why is my dog eating grass like a starving maniac”.

But you know what? I truly hate what it’s done to me. I honestly think I have WAY less of an attention span than I used to. I have a harder time listening to others. Now, it’s almost mindless and automatic when there’s a lull in activity to pick up my phone and scroll through Facebook or Pinterest. It’s a sad state indeed.

I read an article just this week that suggested deleting Facebook off your phone entirely. That will not take care of my Pinterest problems (nothing I’m willing to do will), but man, I am seriously considering it. It’s so easy to send (and get) party invites, share things like blog posts, pictures, etc RIGHT FROM MY PHONE, ANYWHERE, ON THE GO!!! But I suppose there’s no reason I can’t intentionally go do that from my laptop, right?! Aaahhhh, intentionality and mindfulness.  Less time on phone = more time for people I love and hobbies that are truly edifying.

Then there’s TV.  Husband and I cancelled cable many months ago, and now subsist on a steady diet of Netflix and Hulu.  Between Chromecast and Roku, we can kind of watch whatever we want to wherever we want to.  There are still a few shows that I regularly tune into, but it’s much more intentional now.  I never have the TV on in the background anymore, which also means that I’m WAY less likely to stop being productive and just watch TV until I feel guilty for not being productive.

That being said, I still think I watch too much.  Especially if we find a new series on Netflix and we can just binge watch the whole thing.  (Hello, Making a Murderer and most recently, Parenthood!)  Also, if I’m being completely honest, TV is soothing to me for some reason. It’s like emotional eating.  Except it’s emotional…watching.  (I’m having an uncomfortable self-realization moment right now.)

I am very clearly a work in progress with all this.  But cleaning out physical stuff just makes you start thinking deeper.  It makes me want to be intentional and mindful way

practice simplicity and mindfulness
Photo taken in St. John, USVI

more often than I am.  I believe that practicing simplicity and mindfulness in one area of life can and will lead you to do the same in other areas.  It will trickle down.  I want to spend less time cleaning my things and more time writing or painting.  I want to spend less time Facebooking and more time cooking meals for dinner parties.  I want to spend less time worrying and more time living!!  I think that’s what Jesus worry less live morewants for me, too. Worry means I am not trusting Him. And at the end of the day, I want to hear, “Well done, my good and faithful servant!” Not, “Well, you missed a lot of opportunities because you were too worried about things and focused on your smart phone, but you can still come to the Heaven party.”

Until next time…

S