Picture this: you and your three best friends or honey manage to finally escape work and get away for the weekend. You're on the beach, the sun is shining, the waves are gently rolling in and the warm breeze tickles your skin. It's quiet. Peaceful. Idyllic. You lean back into your chaise lounge and check out your friend back in Ohio's most recent status update and "The 32 Funniest Chickens Ever" on Buzzfeed.
If this sounds even remotely plausible to you than you've probably already caught the disease: Space Fever. Yogi Bhajan, the guru of Kundalini Yoga (note: not the style I teach) warned of this disease back in '95. Yeah, dude was a wee bit psychic. "Space Fever is a disease in which you cannot be comfortable in the space you are in...it happens to humanity when progress is faster technically than imaginable," he warns.
Think of the last time you showed up to meet friends at a cool new restaurant and beat them there. Did you check out the decor? People watch? Peruse the menu? Maybe, but as soon as the tiniest bit of social anxiety or discomfort creeps in, out comes the iPhone to remove you from your current space -- the one that didn't give you the immediate gratification you were looking for.
Or what about when you go for a jog? Do you soak up the beauty of nature -- switching up your route based on what blocks or paths feel right that day? Do you breathe deeply and try to sense the Vitamin D seeping into your skin while the chirping of birds accompanies you? Or are your earbuds in -- connected to your iPod that is not only tuning out the outside world, but also has a preselected list of music? At least you get a surprising, happenstance "only happens now" soundtrack when you listen to the good old FM or even XM radio, but who does that anymore?
There's a reason why (most) parents have a "no phone, no TV" at the table rule. It's because they want the family to spend some actual time, existing together in the space they are currently in. If Dad is mentally at the Yankees game, mom's in her Etsy store checking on her craft sales and the kids are doing digital battle with mythic villains or gossiping with their school friends, then who's really there eating together? Bodies. Pod people. Disembodied skin bags that have caught a disease that is contagious and more common than the common cold: Space Fever.
As someone who teaches yoga and mindfulness, learning about this Space Fever made me feel a wee bit sheepish. Sure, I spend a chunk of each and every day on the yoga mat and the meditation cushion being "present" but what about the other 10-12 waking hours? Am I really there? Or am I scrolling through #yogaeverydamnday pictures on Instagram and tuning out with funny animal gifs all whilst feeling twinges of jealousy as my friends post filtered photos from their fabulously filtered lives? To answer truthfully... I've got the fever too.
Just a few years ago, we were much less susceptible to Space Fever. Sure, you could read a book or put on your walkman but there was no way to "time travel" away when feeling antsy or bored. My husband couldn't be at the game while sitting in a restaurant on a date with me. I couldn't see what Jack and Jen look like while honeymooning in Tahiti ("They're so much richer than me!! She's so much thinner than me! I never get to go on vacation!") while I'm paying my bills online. We had to be where we were -- sometimes in an uncomfortable social situation and sometimes on a beautiful beach or at a lovely dinner with our family. There wasn't an option to go anywhere else and because of this, we didn't experience this same discomfort of being in our current space.
So what's a modern guy/gal to do? How do we invite more presence into our lives? We love the internet and most of the time, it loves us back. There are times when "space travel" is great. When I was in Bali talking to my husband and dog in real time via Skype I was truly grateful for the ability to virtually be somewhere else for a few minutes a week. When news of a disaster in another part of the world breaks, we get instant updates so that loved ones know to call and check in on family living abroad. And heck, when you've got to wait in a sterile, art-free dentist's office with nothing but "Modern Dentistry" and tooth-whitening propaganda to read, I give you my full permission to scroll down and check out.
The best way to treat your own Space Fever is to set limits. Boundaries. Gadget-free zones and reminders to, as Ram Dass famously wrote, "Be Here Now." You've got to analyze your own life and make up rules that resonate but to get you started, here are mine:
1. No phone while walking the dog. That means two 20+ minute time periods per day where I am fully present. There are beautiful flowers and trees where I live but every town and city has it's own scenery. Even if it's a gloomy, rainy, nasty day outside, avoid the urge to escape! You might meet a new friend or neighbor when you're physically and mentally present on the sidewalk or in the dog run.
2. No scrolling past 10 p.m. or while in bed (whichever happens first). I like to be asleep -- passed out -- by 11 p.m. I used to find myself in bed, eyes glazed, mouth foaming as my thumb unconsciously scrolled down, down, down. When did my old friends from middle school become so fascinating? When did it get to be 11:14 p.m. already?!? You get it. Set time limits. And stick to them.
3) No earbuds outside. We spend so little time in nature as it is. Why not enjoy it? And um, do we really want to tune out the sound of cars honking and approaching strangers while jogging, walking, or biking? Do you really want to be "that girl" who trips and faceplants on top of a toddler because you were too busy jamming to Katy Perry's "Dark Horse" to see the little guy running into your path?
4. *One gadget-free meal per day. This was a rule recommended to me by one of my yoga mentors and a doozy! As someone who spent a decade eating two meals a day in front of my work computer and the third in front of the TV while finishing work on my laptop and responding to work emails on my Blackberry, this one is extremely tough. And not gonna lie... some days, I break it. Make a commitment to not use your phone or other space travel portals when eating with other people as a start. Gradually as this becomes more natural, you can start to offer yourself the same courtesy while eating alone. Bonus: You may actually eat less and lose weight when you're not mindlessly shoveling food into your zombie face (Think: the popcorn-in-the-movie-theater effect).
Try it for a week and note what feelings come up. Maybe at first you feel more anxious, and that's OK. It's like when you first try to quit biting your nails...you gotta sit on your hands a few times before the urge subsides. Better to experience the full range of your emotions on a daily basis than escape into gadget-land as soon as you're feeling unstimulated.
Maybe instead you'll notice feelings of anxiety easing. You're paying more attention to what's going on in your home rather than on your timeline. You're focused more on liking your life than on your likes. You start to feel more easeful in a wider range of social settings because you're Space Fever -- much like a compulsion or addiction -- is starting to become less habitual. Give it a shot. Be an example to your family and friends, because in this distracting, distracted, digital age -- your attention is the most valuable thing you have to give anyone, including yourself.
"Your attention is your currency; practice how you spend it, save it, give it." -- Elena Brower