One of the things which we noticed when we first moved to the Dordogne was that, in general, the locals are much less fixated on their mobile phones than has become so normalised in other parts of the world. In restaurants here families actually talk to each other when they are out together! When walking around the local towns and villages, people are looking up and making eye contact with other people. Most upcoming events are promoted through posters and flyers. Rural France and the people who live here are much less ‘on-line’ than we had become used to and when we go back to Ireland or the UK now we really notice the difference. In general, we observe that people there are much more stressed and that their energy is more fragmented. Waiting for a plane home in Stansted airport a few weeks ago I noticed that about 95% of those in the queue were staring at digital devices instead of looking up and interacting with the world around them.
As someone who works on-line about 25 hours a week, living in the Dordogne has made me more aware of how negatively that had been affecting me. When I have been on-line too much I notice my mind being very busy and distracted. I watch how often during the day I check for social media updates or messages. I witness myself reacting to those messages and often being pulled away from the present moment. I observe how much stress I can experience from words on a screen or when technology does not work for me. On days when I am switched on for too many hours I feel my mental energy being over-stimulated and my physical and emotional energy being un-grounded. If I am online after 9pm I notice that my sleep pattern is disrupted and it is much more difficult for me to sink into deep sleep.
I received a work-related message on my phone from someone at 9pm last night and I watched my mind disappear into work-related thoughts. As I pondered this I was reminded of my dad who was also self-employed when I was growing up. He arrived home from his office at around 5.30pm each day and there was never any question that he would get drawn back into work for the rest of the evening. There was no way for anyone to contact him except for via the home phone which only happened in case of extreme emergency. Everything waited until he was back in work the next day and he dealt with it then during his working hours. As a self-employed person running several businesses remotely from home, I no longer have the luxury of those clear boundaries but I do have the power to put some boundaries in place which work for me.
The change in our relationship with technology in my 50 year lifetime has been enormous. I remember the enormous excitement when my parents bought our first VHS player when I was about 12 and I was allowed to go to the video library in the local town once a week to rent a video for the night. Now I click a button and can watch nearly anything I want any time I want to and often for free.
In 1987 I worked in London for multi-national data-processing giant EDS. My sister ended up working for the same company but she was based in Paris. I remember clearly what a mind-blowing moment it was when we were able to correspond with each other via the cutting edge internal electronic mail system which the company had developed! This was the first evolution of email. Now I can pick up my mobile, speak into it, it will interpret my words and type them then send her a message instantaneously wherever she is on the planet for free.
Recently I took on a new role as Business Manager for my spiritual teacher Miranda Macpherson. From my cosy home in rural France, I am able to run her business for her in California and promote her work across the globe instantaneously. I still find this totally miraculous and it has opened up a whole new way of working and communicating for our species. I LOVE the internet and how it allows me to live and work and I LOVE learning about new technology as it arrives to make our lives easier.
But all this also means that everything moves MUCH faster and our expectations are much higher. I have a little chuckle when I receive emails from people saying things like “I emailed you yesterday (Saturday) and I still haven’t had a response. Did you get it?” How quickly we have forgotten that only 20 years ago that person would have had to sit down to write me a letter, put in the post, wait for me to receive it and then post a response back!
I don’t think that we have even vaguely started to become aware of the impact of all this on us physically, mentally, emotionally and energetically. It does concern me, especially as I see more and more small children fixated with digital devices and living very sedentary existences. On a recent trip back to Ireland I watched at security in the airport as a 2 1/2 year old had a total meltdown because her mother handed her ipad over to be scanned. The toddler literally lost the plot and had to be peeled off the ground and carried to the other side of the security check. She finally stopped crying when it was given back to her.
Living here in this much less ‘switched on’ environment has shown me how unhealthy it is for us humans to be digitally connected all the time but it has also helped me to find my balance with it all.
So here are some of the simple but highly effective positive habits which I have put in place to support my own well-being in this fast-paced digital age. I hope that some of them will help you too if you are not already doing them.
- DO NOT DISTURB goes onto my phone automatically from 9pm to 9am. This means that I am not in contact with the outside world after that time unless I want to be. It allows my mind to wind down and prepare for bedtime and a deep sleep. To set this up for yourself, go into your SETTINGS then usually into Sounds/Vibration and you will see the Do Not Disturb option. You can set it to come on at a specific time.
- NOISY NOTIFICATIONS are not part of my life. I hate the constant bings and beeps that can invade my mental and physical space if I allow them and, if you come to visit us, you will be asked to switch them off! They disrupt whatever I am doing and pull me away from being fully present. As far as I am concerned they are energetic pollution. You have the power to turn them off so why not do it? You will still see the notifications when you pick up your phone but you don’t need the constant distraction of them. It is so simple to go into each app on your phone and change the notifications to what works for you.
- NO WORK EMAIL comes to my phone. I have a personal email account on the phone but have consciously decided to leave the work emails on my laptop so that I answer them when I actually go to work (even if that is only in my upstairs office).
- NO DIGITAL DEVICES/TV IN THE BEDROOM. Actually that is not strictly true. Sometimes we play music via our phones in the bedroom but the phone is always on Flight Mode or Do Not Disturb at the very least. Our bedroom is a sanctuary and is reserved for sleep, love-making and relaxation. Keeping the space free from digital devices is really supportive for this.
- DIGITAL DETOX DAYS. I am becoming more and more passionate about the restorative power of taking one day a week away from the digital world in order to be fully present in the physical world which we live in too. Getting out into nature, reading a book, writing in a journal, spending time with loved ones, enjoying a creative hobby, learning something new……these are all so good for the soul and are even more enjoyable without the distractions of the digital world. I aim for 1 digital detox day a week which is often a Sunday. It really helps me to switch off completely and to reconnect with myself after a busy, online week.
- TAKE REGULAR RETREATS. This has become part of my life over the last decade and is non-negotiable. When I go on holiday, I want to really go on holiday. I want to get away from it ALL, to quiet my mind, to focus on my inner world and to nourish my mind, body and soul. As often as possible, part of these retreats is switching off completely from the outside world. In fact many retreat centres and spiritual teachers recognise the growing importance of this and may even ask you to hand over your phone at the start of the retreat so that you are not tempted to sneak a peek at Facebook!
Disconnecting from the outside world in this way is such a positive step towards prioritising your well-being and learning to become more present to yourself and the world around you, even if it is only for short periods of time!
I would love to hear what works for you, what other suggestions you have and whether you think your relationship with the digital world is a balanced one or not. So feel free to comment below and also feel free to share this blog with anyone you know who might benefit from it.
Jenny G x