Mindfulness and the Internet

Mindful in May passed me by entirely this year, because I spend so little time online these days that I didn't see any advertising.

Ironic, really, since I deliberately stay offline in order to be more mindful in my life.

For me, the internet is the enemy of mindfulness.

I have to work hard at slowing down and paying attention to the present moment anyway. It's a challenge for me in a way that it's not for everyone, I know. It's to some extent what makes me me. Some of it also has to do with my PTSD.

One of the things people with PTSD commonly do is avoid the present moment. For us, the present hasn't always been that friendly, and our coping strategy is often to disembody or engage in some kind of avoidant behaviour.

Until I got my PTSD under control (I now manage it as a chronic thing and can go years without major symptoms or flare ups) I tried all sorts of avoidance strategies: shopping, relationships, dysfnctional food behaviour, travel, watching lots of TV.

Nothing worked for very long.

I was still stuck with myself, in the present moment. 

Bah.

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Progressively over the last year or so, I've started to find that I really can't spend much time at all on the internet, most especially engaging in social media, before I start to feel strung out and a bit anxious. I think this may have to do with two things:

  1. the constant stream of stimulation, with people sharing the curated 'best of' in their lives, encouraging me to compare (even though I KNOW it's a trap) and feel that I am somehow lacking.
  2. oversharing on social media appears to be addictive, and because I've been sharing less and less about my personal life online since about 2011, I seem to have broken myself of this habit. Which means it just feels 'wrong'.

When I am strung out, it's really hard to be here, on this seat, in this moment, with this cup of tea I have right here. 

Many would say that's when the real practice starts. Fair enough. But I'm saying why make an already difficult task even harder? How about spending some time screen-free occasionally? It'll help you sleep better too.

One of the things I ask our teacher trainees to do - as a kind of experiment on themselves  - is to practice pratyahara (sense withdrawal) by staying entirely off the internet for a day.

Most people have a really hard time with that. Particularly those who are heavy users of social media.

I think of having occasional internet fasts as a form of brain detoxification: limiting my online exposure is a way of preventing too much gunk building up again.

This video talks about the internet and 'brain germs'. We've all been infected this way at some point. Ick!

So, what do you think?

Would you be willing to quit the internet for a day? Or longer? Have you ever done it? What was your experience of being screen-free?