Balancing the mind, inhabiting the body and physical senses, being mindful, and spending at least two hours a week connecting with nature are important ways to deal with the effects of the use of digital technology, according to the recent workshop “Nourishing Wellbeing – Balance in the Digital World.”
Bryan Hindert, facilitator of the FCM workshop, led about 40 participants through a series of reflections and online discussions framed around the Four Nutriments (consumption of mental "edibles," sense impressions, volition/intention and consciousness) to assist in managing their use of digital media in a more intentional and mindful way. Digital media was defined to include computers, cell phones, TVs, and other modern electronic communications devices.
Here are some of the reflections and suggestions from the workshop:
- How often do you use digital devices and for what purpose? When?
- How do we feel when and after using these devices? Do we feel joyful and comfortable? Tired and empty?
- Do we use each device intentionally; that is, do we know why we’re using it? (Connect to family and friends? Sangha? Work?) Or do we stray off into other uses? (Entertainment? Procrastination? To avoid suffering?) Do we even know why we use this device?
- Are we trying to get something from it that we can’t otherwise get, such as to connect? To rest? Does this desire come to fruition? Be attentive to what your motivation actually is, not what you would like it to be.
- Are you aware of what kind of thoughts you’re thinking when you are online? When you’re reading the news, are you thinking angry thoughts? Are you wanting to understand other people or to criticize them?
- Are there other things we would like to be doing in our lives that technology keeps us from doing?
- What content am I consuming? Is it nourishing me or causing suffering? Does the content I’m consuming meet my intention of what I want to “feed” my mind?
Some of the content we "consume" is wholesome. Much is manipulated. Neither the content of electronic media nor our perception of it meets the Buddha’s definition of reality. We need to be very careful and we need boundaries to keep from getting sucked down the rabbit hole.
In casinos, there are no clocks, so people don’t realize it’s time to go. As soon as one YouTube video is done, the next one starts. “Likes” on Facebook keep our eyes on the screen. We get a hit of dopamine every time we see the little dot in a new email. The average person spends 11 hours a day on devices, of which four hours on phones – one quarter of one’s waking day.
There is “digital burnout,” “digital overload” and “Zoom fatigue.” Blue light affects our sleep and our mood. We get physically tired and sit too much. This tech is not benign. It will have negative effects on us if we’re not careful.
Suggestions for practice:
- If we have addictive tendencies, we need to treat our addictive minds very carefully. Use intention and mindfulness to exercise restraint. Bryan tries to block out one day of digital detox each week.
- Nervous system arousal, mood and immune response are improved from spending only two hours a week engaged with nature, less than 20 minutes a day. This could be looking mindfully at trees, spending time in the yard or a park, exposing the body to the sights, sounds, smells and feel of the outdoors. It's important to come into our bodies and senses.
- Become aware that internal discomfort drives us outward and that the answer lies within, not online. The use of electronic devices to avoid facing suffering does not work.
- Consider using a gatha stating your intention when turning on electronic media.
- Experiment: One day, use digital devices the way you have habitually done. The next day, check your intention and watch your mind; notice that you should feel much more balanced.
- Neutral mind states become negative very easily. It’s important to constantly create positive and wholesome mind states, no matter how mundane the tasks you are performing.