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  0.5 Screentime & Embodied Learning

In the silence of a meditation retreat, we disengage from our cell phones, email, the news, and so many of the pressures and demands of our ordinary lives. Leaving that "digital sanctuary" after a retreat and coming back into a fast-moving world can be jarring. It's not uncommon for folks to log in to their email, find 100s of messages waiting, and emerge in a daze hours later thinking, "What just happened?"

"Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including us." – Annie Lamott

More and more, technology has become a part of our everyday life. Without careful attention and deliberate choices, we can easily find ourselves in a disembodied state, pulled into a stream of distraction. Indeed, we live in a culture addicted to stimulation: one of endless choices, instant gratification, and incessant activity. When faced with even a short period of nothing to do, we often reach for some kind of stimulation – switch something on, find something to eat, to read, or ...

Recent studies have shown that the average American spends more than 10 hours a day staring at a screen of some kind! Even times of quality connection can fall prey to this habit. It’s not uncommon to see friends or families in a park or restaurant, each glued to their device. Indeed, too much screen time can have negative physical, mental and emotional effects: from sleep disturbance, to excess sedentary behavior, to social isolation.

So now here you are, taking an online meditation course… You may be wondering: “How do these fit together?”

The aim of this course (and the practice in general) is to bring us into the world of presence and embodiment, rather than to feed the habits that take us away from it. It’s designed to provide the tools to bring more awareness to life: and that includes how we relate to and interface with technology.

So, in addition to the core content we offer, we’ll be inviting you to use the time you spend taking this course as a practice in and of itself. Right now, how would it be to pause for the space of one or two breaths, and just look around a bit?

(No, really…try it!)

And what’s the effect of that in your body? As you read these words, how's the mind and body feeling? Are you settled in yourself? Do you notice any impatience, an impulse to scan further down, or click over to the next screen? If so, how does that push feel? And is that a habit that’s worth following? We can include all of this in our practice. Over time, we learn how to use our attention wisely, to counter the inner fragmentation and bring more of sense of wholeness to our lives.

Each week we'll offer some suggestions for integrating awareness into your life. One of these is creating "mindfulness bells:" specific things that act as signals to pause for a moment or two. The first two we suggest are logging in to our course, and watching the videos. Treat the time you spend here as practice time. Set an intention to pause, breathe and feel your body whenever you log in. Each video begins with a short chime; you can use that as another reminder to come back to being fully aware.

The other challenge is creating some measure of genuine, human connection.

If you haven’t taken an interactive online course before, we hope you’ll keep an open mind and give it a go. We think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the level of connection you can start to feel through the combination of videos, discussion forums, social media and live calls.

Forest Master Ajahn Chah

Of course, there’s nothing that can compare to spending time with other human beings face to face. Spiritual practice is a craft. And just like any real craft, it’s best learned from another person – ideally by apprenticing with a master. It’s a skill that’s developed slowly, over time, with diligence and patience. Indeed, this is one of the great values of sitting a retreat: we get to practice with others and to learn from quality teachers who have honed the art of meditation for decades.

After the retreat, it’s up to each person to take the skills they’ve learned and work with them. That’s where our course comes in. While no one can do the practice for you, we can offer the information and encouragement to help keep it alive. The course materials are designed to keep refining your understanding of this path. The interviews offer further teachings, and can nourish a sense of aspiration. And the discussion forums and live webinars are here to answer your questions.

Above all else, be sure that you’re attending to vital activities like being outdoors, associating with good people, and the simple foundations of a healthy life like adequate rest, food, and exercise. We know; it’s hard to keep all those pieces flowing together in balance! Yet the practice offers us the gift of awareness, which gives us more choice to steer our lives towards real well-being and inner happiness.