10/15/2014 03:15 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

How Edinburgh Taught Me to Be More Present

Photo Credit: Melissa Garvey

Do a quick Google search and you will easily find a number of articles on the importance of giving yourself a break from your smart phone -- especially in social situations or at meals. I practice mindfulness and am always trying to be more present, but will admit I am also addicted to my cell phone. Before I put it away for a meal, I like to checkin or take a picture of my food. Hi, my name is Melissa and I'm a social media addict.

Because I eventually put the phone away, I truly thought I had found a compromise of being present while also updating the world about whatever I was doing. That was until I was forced off of my phone on a recent trip to Scotland.

We landed in Edinburgh after an eight-hour flight, and the first thing on the minds of my travel companions and myself was food. We had picked at our paltry airplane food offerings and I, for one, was not only hungry from it but also incredibly excited to get my hands on some haggis. So with bags and all, we stopped at the first café we saw that offered a traditional Scottish breakfast. After hitting the bathroom to wash off some long flight grime, we sat down and I immediately reached for my phone. And then I realized that there was nothing I could do. I didn't have service and there was no free Internet connection in the cafe. So I turned to my menu, ordered my Scottish breakfast (side note -- love haggis), and sat and chatted with my companions. And as we sat there, I looked around and noticed that there was not a cell phone to be seen. There were three other tables full of people in the small café, and not one of them had a phone out. Instead they were all engaged with each other. I was honestly amazed. People there all have smartphones with almost as much popularity as in the United States -- where were they? Where was the addiction we Americans seem to have?

So I sat, I ate, I talked and I observed. And after I finished eating, I started getting antsy for my phone. I started looking to my server to see when we'd be getting the bill so I could move and do or find something to capture my attention. Finally, one of my companions said, "You know, I think they don't rush you here. Looks like we have to ask for the bill." What a novel concept. I looked back to the other customers and they were all sitting and enjoying each other after their meals. No one was rushed. I felt ashamed. So much for my excellent handle on mindfulness and being present. I had 10 minutes of free time with nothing in front of me and was already itching to get going.

The long meals and lack of cell phones became something of a social experiment for the two-week trip. I took note of my odd, gnawing desires to check Facebook and Twitter and tried to force myself to focus on the moment I was in and the people I was with. Others did not fair so well. I noticed that one of my companions took to pulling her iPhone out to check whatever old Facebook posts had been loaded the last time she had Internet connection. The desire to be on that phone was so strong that she was willing to sit and scroll through things she had already looked at. I eventually became happy and grateful for the break from my phone. I felt more relaxed and noticed all the Scottish beauty around me that I was truly able to examine and contemplate. I became grateful for my lack of cell phone service.

I returned to the U.S. with the feeling that I had reached a new level of being present--a level that comes naturally to the Scots. Of course two weeks later I was back to checking my phone incessantly. But I now have the knowledge of how great it can feel without that thing being attached to my hand and eyeballs. And like any new habit, it will take a good amount of work to change. But I'm willing to do that to get back the relaxed presence I felt in Scotland.