We’ve had ten years since the iPhone was first released and a dozen since Facebook became a thing. They are icons of a continuing radical change in the way we communicate and interact with each other. In this series, we examine the practice of the spiritual disciplines in this age of touchscreens and timelines.
If we hope to move beyond the superficialities of our culture, including our religious culture, we must be willing to go down into the recreating silences, into the inner world of contemplation. – Richard Foster Celebration of Discipline
Why should we meditate in a life of distraction, attention grabbing notifications, buzzes, beeps, rings and Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)?
The answer may seem self-evident, but let’s explore it anyway. While vines have fallen by the wayside, their reflection of the brevity of our attention span in a digital age has not gone away. In 2007, the average office worker was interrupted every 3 minutes and 5 seconds – 19 times every hour. That research was done before the iPhone was released. Now, in addition to the previous interruptions, smartphone users are checking their screens 150 times a day.
Dan Harris, the news anchor who had a famous breakdown on camera, now promotes meditation as a means of reducing stress and increasing happiness. In addition, there is a growing body of research on the importance of engaging the “default mode network” of the brain through mindfulness and meditation.
Meditation is the antidote to distraction and interruption. It is also a means of reconnecting to our spiritual center – the living God.
Silence is the simple stillness of the individual under the Word of God… But everybody knows that this is something that needs to be practiced and learned, in these days when talkativeness prevails. Real silence, real stillness, really holding one’s tongue comes only as the sober consequence of spiritual stillness. –
Dietrich Bonhoeffer – Life Together
When we meditate on God’s word, we allow the repetition of the word in our minds to focus our attention. We intentionally seek to hear the voice of God. We open ourselves to the Word becoming flesh and dwelling within us. While we are physically still and outwardly silent, our mind and heart are immersed in the presence of Christ and embraced by the peace of Christ. The early church fathers recognized the intimacy with God that came through meditation. It is in meditation that we find the truth of the hymn – What a friend we have in Jesus.
How do we meditate in the age of touchscreens and timelines?
First, we must release our dependence on the device to direct or draw our attention. The most effective way to release it is to TURN IT OFF. Power down. Then leave the device in another room.
For many people, turning off the phone and leaving it in another room will generate a wave of anxiety. We have become addicted to our smartphones. That is by design, not because you have a character flaw. Many flagship universities now have a form of “Persuasion Lab” where researchers explore how machines can change human behavior. We have all been a part of a worldwide research project by companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple and countless others to influence our behavior for profit. When you can’t bring yourself to turn off your phone without a wave of anxiety, that is by design.
We often use the smartphone as calendar and alarm clock in addition to its many other distracting apps. If you want to meditate (and sleep better), use a separate alarm clock. If you have an appointment you want to make or are concerned you’ll fall asleep while meditating, a battery powered alarm clock can be carried to the room where you meditate. Don’t use your phone for this purpose. Just having it in the room with you will be distracting.
Second, find a place in your home, office, school or neighborhood with a comfortable place to site where you can be quiet and uninterrupted for fifteen minutes.
Third, start with just
five minutes one minute of meditation. It will be hard to stay focused at first. Don’t try to go too long to begin with.
Fourth, sit in a neutral, comfortable position. Hands where they are at ease. Sit up straight, but without strain.
Fifth, choose a short memorable passage of scripture on which to meditate.
Sixth, light a candle or create a visual focus with a cross or icon to set aside this place and time for meditation.
Seventh, begin to meditate. Scripture meditation is simply focusing on the repeating words of scripture. When your mind wanders to other things, you stop and return to the word. Keep your breathing steady and be mindful of your mental and emotional state. You don’t have to describe the state in words, just experience the state of your mind and emotion as you repeat the words of scripture.
When the time for meditation is up, allow yourself a moment to reflect on what you’ve heard from the Lord, what you’ve felt in your heart, in what direction you’ve been led.
Then when you are ready go ahead and talk to a loved one, go back to work, to study, to play, or to serve.
See how long you can go after you’ve meditated without powering up the smartphone. Or better yet, how many people you can bless before you need to hit your timeline or swipe your touchscreen.