On Being Present

It was late last month when I decided to rethink how much time I spend online. After months of juggling freelance work and a full-time job, I began calculating just how many hours a day I spend on a computer. Too many. It can't all be avoided, of course. I work full time as a content manager and spend many of my "off" hours writing for other organizations and publications.

Still, I figured there had to be a way to balance everything. There was certainly room for improvement.

Naturally, my mind drifted first to my social media apps. I thought about the many pointless minutes I spend scrolling through Instagram, barely absorbing the colorful photos beneath my fluttering fingertips. It's become a mindless habit, one I recently decided I could live without.

So on my quest to add more peace to my day, I deleted the app I use most, Instagram, and replaced it with meditation apps. Sure, these still have me looking at my phone, but only for a few seconds. Then I close my eyes and tune the world out for a few minutes. I focus on my breath instead of images. I let my mind rest.

These meditations have challenged me to swap my morning screen time with a brief pause. So far, I only have the patience for a three- or five-minute reflection, but that's a hell of a lot more than I was doing.

So far, it's been paying major dividends.

You see, my days are busy. They typically begin at 5:30 a.m., sometimes earlier. I rush through my mornings, multi-tasking every portion of my pre-dawn routine. I grab my lunch and rush to work, maneuvering in and out of traffic in an automated daze. I arrive at work and check my email before even taking my coat off. I leave promptly at 5 p.m., which is when I begin several hours of writing. I have deadlines to meet. I chastise myself for every hour I procrastinate. I know it just means I'll be up late.

My recent travels have shed a lot of light on how I'd like to be living my life. I grew up in a culture that prides people who skip lunch breaks, work overtime and have little to no free time. Being a workaholic is like a badge of honor, but it comes at a major expense. I'd rather safeguard my sanity.

It's easy to get into a routine and feel stuck on autopilot. I would know. Lately, that's been me, and I hate it. And I'm trying to change it.

I went on a hike a couple weekends ago, technology free. It wasn't planned, and I didn't have specific expectations. The hike itself was beautiful. I walked along a muddy trail in Forest Park to a bridge above a cool stream, then over to a rock, where I plopped down and cracked open a book. I read as runners sped by, kicking up mud as they went. I admired the moss-covered tree limbs that hung from the forest's canopy. Birds fluffed their feathers in a nearby stream. Nature always grabs my attention, but it was nice to appreciate it without the need to capture it. I just enjoyed its beauty.

Being less connected has had other perks, too. Since removing several of my social media apps, I've had more time to read. I've had more time to sleep. I've been attending more local art events around the city. I've also just overall been more present—something I want to prioritize more often.

On my recent trip to Thailand, I couldn't do anything but be present. Because I only had service at my hostel, I spent most of my days completely disconnected, and it was a refreshing experience. I couldn't answer texts or check my social feeds. Instead, I truly appreciated my surroundings. I took mental notes of the smells, the sights, the sounds. I didn't have plans, and this made me happy. It felt natural in a way my technology-bound life doesn't.

So yeah, deleting social apps has somewhat improved my life. It's brought the good things into better focus. The mindless scrolling has been replaced with moments of silence. I slow down on my drives to work and enjoy hikes without documenting them. As a result, my gratitude has skyrocketed. I enjoy the little things, like opening a window and listening to the rain. Or taking a nap when my body is tired. Or flipping through the crinkled pages of a good book. No photos to prove it.