After work at the end of the day I know that there are things I should do: exercise, fix a healthy dinner, and do spiritual practices. But those aren’t the easy things.
The easy things are the opposite: sit on the couch, eat whatever is sitting out, and browse random news sites. Maybe use Facebook, Instagram.
Do you ever have this happen?
Those sites and apps are the killer. If I was just sitting on the couch and doing nothing else, I might start watching my breath (meditating). If I was eating but didn’t let my energy drop (sitting on the couch and mindlessly consuming media), I’d be more inclined to have something healthy. The distractions aren’t helping…
Swami Kriyananda said, and this is honestly one of my favorite quotes of his, that “Restlessness is the playground of maya (delusion).” Why?
Without stillness, we can’t see clearly. If I try to take a picture but don’t stop the camera long enough for it to focus, every picture I take will be a blur. This is what restlessness—constant movement—does to the mind as well.
Becoming still, however, we naturally see more clearly and make healthier choices. The first step in getting there is to slow down and disengage from anything that is actively pulling us out of ourselves and away from stillness.
1. Unplug Some Things
In Paramhansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi there’s this wonderful old photo — except wait, I forgot, it’s not a photo, it’s from hundreds of years ago. No smartphones back then. It’s a drawing:
Not a lot going on. Just the practitioner of the spiritual arts, a spiritual teacher, and a quiet countryside. Ah, the simple life. Actually, there is one piece of technology, if you can spot it: an arm prop, used in certain yogic techniques like the AUM technique where the hands need to stay elevated.
Except during times of retreat, however, few of us can live that way-and even if we could, I’m not sure we would want to. Modern technology gives us a lot of good things, right? Medical advances; improvements in communication and learning; immersive storytelling can be helpful in building empathy; apps can even support our spiritual life. (Incidentally, check out the Ananda Meditation app!)
Still, there’s a point at which too much of a good thing becomes counter-productive. In recent years we’ve become even better at distracting ourselves from what really matters. Actually, we’ve become really good at it.
In Behavioral Addictions by Kenneth Rosenberg and Laura Feder, the authors report that 46 percent of people report that they couldn’t bear to live without their smartphones and up to 59 percent of people say that they’re dependent on social media, while admitting that this dependence makes them unhappy.
If you belong to this either of these groups (I know I do), you can do something about it. But it’s not enough to just turn off the Wi-Fi and take an evening off; we have to make unplugging a habit.
Think of a time in your day when you’re liable to turn to what Paramhansa Yogananda called “fillers”—distractions that don’t add to your quality of life. Maybe it’s at the end of your workday like it is for me. Now take a moment and imagine yourself in that situation. Visualize choosing a positive direction for your energy instead.
Our minds are powerful and with training can help us. One activity I’ve found helpful is to build routines at the inflection points of my day: when I wake up, for example, and decide not to check messages right away, or when I come home from work and spend a few minutes in silence. I might be tired and hungry, but if I spend some time meditating first thing—at least before I plug in—I do feel better.
Make time each day to put down the phone, keep it out of sight and reach, and be still. What that bucolic drawing above represents to me is an opportunity, a state to keep in mind; a time before devices were so much at the center of our lives.
2. Do Some Deep and Controlled Breathing
The techniques of yoga can also help us—and I’m not just talking about the yoga postures, which are good, but also breathing and energy control techniques like pranayama.
This is a good introductory pranayama technique to try if you have a few minutes. We have a whole series of them if you want to explore more. (Oh, and, ahem, they are also on the Ananda Meditation app.…)
Yoga encourages us to work with our energy and raise it. When we get the energy right, it says, good things will flow naturally. We build a force field that keeps away restlessness and other negative states of consciousness.
3. Create an Environment of Focus
I have a secret to share, or perhaps confess. A few minutes ago, I created a new user account on my computer where I hid all the other apps, the web, etc. to create a space where I can focus.
As I’m writing this, I’m not technically unplugged—well, my laptop is running on its battery, so I guess technically I am—but this article is filling my screen and my Wi-Fi is turned off. My phone is in another room. Actually, I am in another room, in our guest room, away from any other distractions.
I haven’t written this much at one time in quite a while, so I guess it’s working! Changing our environment with an eye towards changing our consciousness is a time-honored yogic practice. Paramhansa Yogananda even went so far as to say, “Environment is stronger than will power.”
Focusing is itself a spiritual practice. This is why many people say “I meditate when I swim,” or “I meditate when I’m painting.” In these types of activities, we reach a state of flow and calmness that can be spiritually uplifting.
A relative and I were talking about this at a recent family gathering. Then we also talked about how the deeper states of meditation happen when our bodies are completely still and when the direction of our energy, instead of its habitual movement outward through the senses, reverses and flows inward. In those states, we touch the bliss of our own being.
To attain that level of stillness, the scientific technique of meditation is a great help. And it is available to learn… in the Ananda Meditation app. Sorry, I work on that app and I guess I can’t help mentioning it all the time!
Apps like this one are, in fact, a way to turn technology into an aid for our spiritual growth. It’s not all about unplugging. Technology, like the ancient science of yoga, is a tool, and when we get away from distractions we can use it to bring stillness and peace into our busy lives—gifts that we can then share with the world.