When I talk about the quality of awareness, I mean having awareness on three levels. First, is simply awareness of the present moment. Second is being aware of yourself – who you are and who you want to be. Third is awareness of the world around you – paying attention to your environment, others and the issues of the world.
Is technology helping or hurting our awareness?
In today’s busy world, we live demanding lives full of distractions. Constant interruptions from emails, notifications, texts, and an overflowing bombardment of commitments that slow us down.
Technology has undeniably made it simpler than ever to split our attention into progressively smaller fragments, where our gadgets allow us to be in many places at the same time. You can pay your electricity bill while stuck in traffic; shop online from the couch while watching a movie; and answer work emails from your kid’s dance recital. Although convenient, technology comes with the price of you not fully occupying the space and time where you actually should be: the present moment.
Stopping to smell the flowers
It is true that successful people are the ones on top of their game, constantly working to improve themselves, making progress, curiously discovering and pushing themselves to work harder. But if that is all you are doing, without taking a moment to savor the present moment and the simplicity of just being, you are not really winning in the game of life. Many people get caught up in the “rat race” by accomplishing one goal after another, while forgetting to enjoy the journey. We chase happiness by aiming to be richer, wiser, stronger, more powerful or famous, but happiness eludes our grasp because there’s no end in sight. There’s always something more to achieve. True winners are those who add awareness into their daily routine in addition to their ambitions and work ethic.
Mindfulness has become a buzzword and a widely discussed topic in recent times. Countless articles and books are published on this subject, a multitude of courses and retreats are offered at public and private institutions, and numerous gadgets and apps have been released that are aiming to help people find mindfulness. It’s ironic that these mindfulness apps are available on our phones, while the same gadget is also the source of so much procrastination and loss of focus.
In her TIME Magazine article, 6 Secrets to a Happier Life by Emma Seppala, she suggests:
“Paradoxically, slowing down and focusing on what is happening in front of you right now —being present instead of always having your mind on the next thing— will make you much more successful. Expressions like “live in the moment” or “carpe diem” sound like clichés, yet science backs them up robustly. Research shows that remaining present — rather than constantly focusing on what you have to do next— will make you more productive and happier and, moreover, will give you that elusive quality we attribute to the most successful people: charisma.”
The smartphone addiction
Extinguishing our inherent impulse to keep in constant contact with the outside world is difficult, since we have an ingrained predisposition to be conditioned by the ‘rewarding’ nature of stimuli. (Pavlov’s experiments spring to mind here.) Without realizing it, we seek constant gratification when we check the latest news, notifications and emails. According to an extensive study by the Nielsen Company, the average American teenager sends 3,339 texts a month. That’s more than six per every waking hour! (Report: The Nielsen Company “U.S. Teen Mobile Report Calling Yesterday, Texting Today, Using Apps Tomorrow”)
Social media (or phone) addiction is an epidemic all over the world, and it gets in the way of people’s ability to enjoy themselves because they become oblivious to the delightful small details that make life more pleasant. Watching a gorgeous sunset, smelling the freshly cut grass, noticing the smiles of pedestrians passing by, and truly deriving pleasure from being alive.
Connected But Out of Touch
Have you ever been out to a restaurant and noticed a couple sitting across the table from each other, both with their heads looking down into their phone screens? Have you been that couple, perhaps? I’ve often observed groups of people sitting down in a social setting where each and every single one of them was busy typing, tapping or scrolling on their electronic devices. I’ve also come across people who are physically present but mentally absent. Their eyes are glazed over, probably thinking about their next Instagram post and the accompanying hashtag that they can’t wait to share with the world. Those are the people who fail to notice the beauty around them and the magic of human connection. It is certainly sad to see that technology, while creating many opportunities and making our lives easier, is eradicating much of what makes us essentially human.
My hope for the new generations growing up in this tech-savvy world is that they can still enjoy the same simple things that I did when I was growing up. When I was younger, the outdoors was my escape. I want my daughter, Maya, to cherish time spent with her friends, looking into each other’s eyes, being able to touch and sense the other person, and to create long-lasting memories, just like I did with my friends. I hope she will marvel at the magnificent and majestic creations of history’s most significant artists with her eyes and not through the lens of a phone camera. And I wish for Maya to grow up being captivated by curiously discovering the physical world instead of being addicted to the Internet.
How well do you know yourself?
Awareness, through recognizing people and things around you can also be applied to being aware of yourself – your strengths and weaknesses, your likes and dislikes, your morals and beliefs. As you become more self-aware, your attention can extend to others to be more compassionate, understanding and kind. When awareness fuses with attentiveness to the needs of others, your relationships with loved ones grow stronger. Your consciousness can expand further for the greater good as you become mindful of important environmental and societal issues.
“Mindful awareness is waking up to what’s happening inside of you, and in the world, moment by moment.”
~ Mark Williams and Danny Penman