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Engaging With the Physical World

A Strategy for Fasting from the Digital World

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(Friends, I found this piece of writing from a couple of years ago, and I share it with you today because it was a reminder of how to stay present in the world--something we all need now more than ever. )

Yesterday was one of the best days of my life. Hands down. And basically, nothing happened. It was just a ‘day’ like a million others.

But it was such a great one. Something stood it up on its feet, head and shoulders above the rest. I kind of don’t want to go into why. It feels a little like debriefing a transcendent lovemaking afternoon: Your lover has just left you breathless, exhausted, exhilarated, alive, ready to die, ready to go another round. The last thing you want to do is start picking apart what went well, talking about physical techniques and pacing, the power of language, the advantages of whether or not alcohol was consumed beforehand.

No. You just either fall into the best sleep of your life, or indeed go another round and then fall into the best sleep of your life.

So that’s not what I'm going to do here. It’s more like, I want to look back at the day, take its face in my hands and tell it thank you. Here’s what happened.

I had declared a screen Sabbath. (No phone, no laptop.) My people know that on Sunday, I’m “offline;” but they don’t know that I go online all the time on Sundays. For stupid stuff. Like, to know the temperature, I’ll look at my phone. (?!) I can go outside and know everything I know. I don’t need to look at my phone. Or I go online, ostensibly for “fun” stuff, which is all I’m supposed to be doing on my Sabbath, and hours later I sort of wake up out of myself, having sat there for three hours, bird-dogging some arcane technical glitch in the Quickbooks program I was going to update. I’ve wasted an entire afternoon on nothing.

The hypocrisy had gotten out of hand, so I put my foot down. I declared a real screen Sabbath. My rules were simple: just don’t look at the phone or the laptop. Don’t do it, not for any reason. I powered both items completely down to help me stay clean.

And then I sat back and watched the show in my mind, the 1001 ways ego tried to get me to unconsciously jump back into my habits.

Resistance alone hasn’t worked, so I knew I would need a new strategy. Here it is: Resist and replace. What I replaced the screens with was the physical world. I know it sounds too obvious, but those were the words that came to me. Engage with the physical world. Whatever it was, it had to involve physically touching, handling, working with something.

I put on my beats, and queued up Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Started out just sitting on my couch, feeling its texture, listening to this gorgeous symphony. I never do this. I’m a musician, and I never listen respectfully (as in the music is in the foreground) to the music I love. Sitting there, I made a list. A physical one on paper with a pencil that I thoroughly enjoyed sharpening. Here were the things I could do:

  • Take a long walk with Elena

  • Quilt

  • Play the guitar (haven’t in years)

  • Refresh the altars (fill water bowls, shake out the altar cloths, etc.)

  • Install a shoe rack I bought a month ago

  • Put together Elena’s shadow box with her signed Billie Jean King tennis ball

  • Wet-Swiffer the bedroom floors

  • Clear off the bureau surface

  • Walk our dog

  • Clean out the clothes closet in the TV room

  • Buy Therabands to use in my yoga classes

  • Read my anatomy book

  • Read, just for fun! (Ursula K. leGuin’s “The Left Hand of Darkness”)

Have you ever seen a less remarkable list of things to do? And yet, that’s how I spent my day — mostly with the beats on — and I’d never been happier. Every activity I engaged in was for the sake of its own self. Not to have a cleaner house or to please anyone (even me).

And most of it was to the sumptuous music of Prokofiev. I just made communion with whatever physical thing I was holding (the book, the clothes, the mop, the vacuum cleaner, the Phillips screwdriver, the dishes, the soap). And nothing mattered. Nothing had to be great (although it was. You should see how clean I got the kitchen, even the stovetop.)

Elena and I went for a walk with our dog (no beats), and I wasn’t that head-bent-down presence that I usually am, looking at my phone. I was there. We had a beautiful time.

I was grateful to be alive. I was moving around the house, genuinely feeling my joy. I’m a little ashamed to admit how long it’s been since I felt that. I didn’t need anything from anybody. I wasn’t waiting for praise or appreciation. I was just genuinely happy for a whole day.

Not to get all “let’s debrief how that lovemaking session went,” but there are a couple reasons for this, and I share them with you because maybe some of this is resonating with you.

  1. I really did do the screen fast. I only broke this twice, and only for a second, but that’s ok because nobody’s perfect, and I got right back on track afterward.

  2. I was feeding my brain what gives me joy (the music). I honestly think something about that powered all the rest of it.

So, in conclusion, I gave myself the task of touching things all day. Being in relationship with the physical world. That blossomed into a sense of intimacy with all my things. And because the music was in my ears, I was doing things with no agenda, no expectation, just the sheer delight in letting sounds make my heart happy, while I let textures speak to my hands.

I rowed my way down that stream of joy, and it took me all the way through my day and into the night. May you feel this joy. May all beings everywhere feel this joy. I mean it.


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