One of my most problematic habits—which I assume I share with a lot of people—is looking at my phone or computer as soon as I wake up. I check email or Facebook notifications. I check the weather. I sometimes look at a site here or there.
None of this is very healthy. None of it makes me feel good.
There’s an assumption I sometimes have that the internet will connect me to all that’s worthy and real, that somehow life—and all the answers to go along with it—exists on a brightly lit page I can scroll through. When I’m in a good routine, I know with great clarity that this isn’t the case. When I’m disciplined, the first thing I do when I wake up is look inward: go for a walk, write in my journal, record my dreams, do yoga. This mind-traveling is not always easy, or fun, but it’s worth it. When I’m finished, the world—and my family—is still buzzing, but I have a better handle on things, especially myself. I cultivate a smoothness and a balance in my mind, and I’m not pulled in every direction by what I see or hear or feel.
On a recent morning, my daughter woke us all up especially early, at 5:30, and my tired, frenetic energy led me to my computer for more hours than I’m used to. I read too many tweets (statements about murder and genocide next to a mother’s picture of her kid eating guacamole next to a quote from the Dalai Lama). I caught up on my email. I checked and posted on Facebook. I wandered into a few TED talks, all of which left me feeling buzzy and depleted and annoyed.
I finally saw all of the browsing and clicking for what it was—noise. Lots and lots of noise. And all the noise did was keep me further and further from myself.
The more I stare at a computer screen, taking in whatever I come across—and not always knowing the shocking things I’m going to see—the more detached I become from my inward life. The less thinking I do. The less sure I am of the peace I have within me.
I don’t believe that altogether avoiding social media or the internet is the answer. I know that many livelihoods depend on internet usage. I have kept in touch with friends and formed meaningful relationships because of social media. The key seems to be finding a balance with maintaining connections virtually, in real life, and with myself. There has to be a point at which I turn all the noise off.
Because my personal faith has become the central lens through which I see most things, I feel very strongly about my need to live in an intimate relationship with a divine force—call it God, Mother, the Infinite. I know that when that personal and inward connection grows, I am capable of great humility, great light, and great deeds. My ego gets out of the way, and a higher force has the potential to work through me. But that can only happen when I spend enough time checking in with myself, being aware of my feelings, my negative habits or compulsions, and accepting myself in all my flaws and glory.
I used to think that seeking distraction was my way of relaxing, finding escape, unwinding after a stressful day. Luckily, I’ve learned that when I feel like I’m yearning for escape, I’m more likely looking for a deeper journey inward, a connection to something bigger than I am—wisdom, peace, the pulse of all things.
The internet can be a useful tool, in moderation. But it will never, ever give me the kind of calm and awareness that comes from knowing myself.
Jana Llewellyn has written essays, short fiction, reviews and cultural commentary for a range of online and print publications. Before starting The First Day, she taught writing and literature to teenagers and adults and worked as a writer and editor at the Quaker magazine, Friends Journal. She also teaches yoga and blogs at AnAttitudeAdjustment.com.
Image: “Wake Up Your Mind” by Thomas Hawk via Flickr.