I’m not sure if it’s the shift in season or that my to-do list has grown bigger than ever, but lately I’m finding it extremely difficult to be present in my surroundings. If I’m not mesmerized by what’s happening on my phone, computer or TV, then I’m slowly drifting away on an ocean of inner thoughts.
I’ve always been introspective. But lately it’s on a whole new level. Even as I type this, I find it difficult to focus on re-reading for errors because my thoughts want to carry me away (please excuse any typos, btw).
Even when I exercise, my mind is focused on my inner world. Like, what my breath feels like. The thoughts that I’m having (and how I can overcome negative ones). And the sensations in my body.
These are all good things. They are meditative activities. But they are so focused on my inward self that I sometimes I think I live in my own “matrix.”
On a flight not too long ago, I was reminded of a simple antidote. Something I used to do for hours as a kid and was hardly doing at all until a month ago. To just stare, shamelessly, out the window.
Sounds simple, right? Maybe. Though it did take me a while to get over the guilt of not being “productive.” Straight up consuming content on Instagram, my podcast app, my kindle or TV somehow seems more “productive” than staring out the window. And of course that’s nonsense. But it took a minute to get used to it.
For you natural born “people-watchers,” maybe this sounds all too easy. But for people like me, the ones who don’t even notice celebrities at the next table over at a restaurant, it’s a bit more challenging. I stare and I still get lost in a world of inner thoughts. But at least looking out the window forces me to connect more with the outer world. To every so often notice what’s happening outside my head or phone.
On the plane I was able to keep my mind on the waves in the ocean and the shifting shapes of the clouds. So now I try to spend a few minutes a day staring out of windows and just see what I notice. When I’m home, I spend a few minutes everyday staring out on to my block. I call it “zen meditation” to make myself feel better. Sometimes I try to stare further out, hoping my eyesight will improve and I will actually be able to undo all the screen time. Wishful thinking. At least my eyes get a little break – though I’m starting notice that real life doesn’t have the same contrast as a brightly lit screen and using my eyes in real life, though less tiring, requires more effort. Weird right? Just an example of the thoughts that get stuck in my head…
I also have this new rule for myself. No getting sucked into my phone while I’m traveling on ground level (and minimal getting sucked in while on the subway). I have to admit that enforcing this rule on ground level is a little easier for me since I tend to get motion sickness in cars if I stare at my phone too long. And it’s safer for walking. I know that’s obvious but come on, I know we all still walk with our heads in our phones. So far I’ve noticed some pretty architecture I never noticed before. And I now have a much bigger list of restaurants to try out.
The subway thing is a bit more challenging, especially when it’s crowded and I really don’t want to interact with the people on the train. To make this easier, I pretend that I’m Jason Bourne, memorizing my surroundings in case I need to make a quick exit. I’ve learned that I’m terrible at remembering the details of my surroundings. I’m hoping this a learnable skill. Also I’ve noticed some people think I’m staring at them. But that’s their problem, right?