My work requires to be connected all the time, or at least that’s what I have made myself to believe. Running my own company and collaborating with colleagues and clients in different time zones blurs the difference between work time and personal time and it’s easy to catch myself writing emails at the wee hours of the day or in the middle of the weekend.
But I believe this constant, mindless, connectivity is detracting from my time in this world. After all, life is short and it’s defined more by the small things we do everyday – what I like to call ‘the small rituals in life’ – than by the highlights or peaks that fill up a CV (get a degree, get married, have children, change jobs, moved to new city, etc).
In 2015 my personal pledge is to be more mindful of life and my surroundings, connecting better with what matters most (to me) and disconnecting as much as possible from what’s not important, what wastes time and anything that does not make (my) life happier.
To do this, I’m following a few personal guidelines (calling them ‘rules’ would be to pretentious) to drive my way through a year of connecting and disconnecting better. In essence, I want to pay more attention to what I’m doing and be more present wherever I happen to be, celebrating the beautiful minutiae of being alive, while not getting stuck (too much) on the drawbacks that living itself entails. To avoid living my life distractedly and not enjoying it for what it is, restraining from living too much in the past or too much in the future.
Mindfulness and Meditation
At the base of my old and new behaviors are mindfulness and meditation, two overly abused words these days, especially in the tech industry and in cosmopolitan cities like London and New York.
My curiosity in Buddhism and meditation started somewhere in my late teens back in Buenos Aires. In those early Internet years I could only access such topics via books, but I lacked people in my network that could point me to the right ones, and I felt that I was missing something regarding what meditation was.
In the last few years, mindfulness has creeped back into my life through daily experiences and a renewed interest in the everyday practice of meditation. My sabbatical in Japan in 2008, my erratic martial arts path (mostly Aikido, suspended now because of back issues) and the easy access to content and people via the internet has fuelled what has now become a daily meditation habit, which I intend to keep and grow by visiting a local Zendo here in London and occasional retreats to learn from/with others.
Connecting and disconnecting while practicing sports
I like to run, especially in parks and on trails here and there. Running is a way to relax, mature the occasional idea and in general the only sport that I can regularly practice, as I travel often and it just requires packing running shoes and light clothes. Not only I find it and excellent way to disconnect from the daily hassles but also to explore new places. Istanbul, Tokyo, Madrid, London, Amsterdam, Bilbao, Milan, Rome, Buenos Aires… running has allowed me to see them from a different point of view.
Until a few years ago I used to run almost exclusively with music. I had a running compilation consisting of mostly hard rock songs (yes, Eye of the Tiger was part of it) and it helped with distracting myself from the effort required to make it through the run. Until one day, running across the beautiful Tuscan hills close to Siena in a sunny day, I realised that the music was obfuscating my senses. I couldn’t hear my own breathe or steps (or for that matter, a car coming my way) but most importantly I couldn’t hear the beautiful sounds of Nature around me. Birds chirping, the wind caressing the tall grass on the sides of the gravel road, the shuffling of leaves made by small lizards shying away from my path, the occasional dog, rooster, goat and what not.
Since then, probably 3 years ago, I stopped running with music (I might consider it for running on a treadmill, which I seldom do). To enhance the feeling of being present, I run mostly using minimalistic shoes like the Vibram Five Fingers, which allow a close sense of connection with the ground and let me feel almost the creases in the terrain, the pebbles and branches that I step on.
Disconnecting in the bedroom
For the last 12 years or so my phone has been my alarm clock. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that except that, being my phone a smartphone, while grabbing it to turn on or off the alarm usually ended with long periods of mindless browsing through social media, the web and email. In fact, it was one of the first things I did before getting out of bed. In recent times I have eradicated the smartphone from the bedroom, and it all started with the “no social media in bed” rule and trying not to pick it up for the first 15’ after waking up. To wake up I bought an old school alarm clock. With rare exceptions, the only gadget I’m ok with in bed is a kindle ebook reader.
Another thing I like to do, alas not frequently enough, is to write down my dreams using pen and paper. It’s easier to write down my memories with my eyes half closed on paper than erratically tapping them on a screen. At a later time I take a photo of these notes using Evernote, which is my platform of choice to keep everything (notes, presentations, ideas, articles, food recipes, etc) with the hope that by doing this I’ll be able to search the content of my dreams too (it has happened a few times, when searching for a specific word or person, that a dream popped up among the results of a search query).
Connecting better with people
I’m blessed by the group of friends I have, and my work and travels makes me meet new and interesting people all the time. Every time I meet them I try to dedicate them my full attention, shunning out any possible distractions. One way to do this is to avoid putting my smartphone on the table during meetings, lunches and dinners unless it’s needed for a specific thing or it is in some way required during the conversation. Same with Skype calls, by closing all other distractions like email or Facebook. (Friend, if you’re reading this and notice I keep being distracted when we spend time together please let me know!).
I usually send dozens of hand written postcards and thank you notes every year and during 2015 I’d like to reach out more to those people I care about with which I’ve recently lost touch. There’s nothing like unexpectedly receiving a physical reminder of our friendship.
Connecting better with food
A famous author (who I won’t name because I couldn’t find his specific comment) said a few years ago that since he had Twitter he never ate alone anymore (reportedly when traveling). I have been guilty of eating in front of some kind of screen – be it a computer, tablet or smartphone – very often but I’ve now shunned them all while having a meal alone at home or at work, in order to connect better with the food and the ambiance of where I’m in. For practical reasons, I can have my device at arms reach but I will keep it off or with the screen facing away while I’m actually eating. (I’m ok with using it while waiting for the food or while still sitting and in need of some piece of information). If I’m very busy, I might take a shorter lunch break, but be fully into it while it lasts.
I also pledge to cooking more (an activity I actually enjoy a lot) and having friends for lunch and dinner more often, which also motivates me to learn new recipes.
These are a few ways I’ll follow to be more present during 2015 (and beyond). What are you doing to be more present in your life?