Have you listened to any podcasts Johan Harri has done on his recent book Stolen Focus? Nor had I, until about a month ago when I was on a walk with good friend of mine. Although I say we were on a walk together, but what I mean is, we left the house together but were craving alone time so walked 15 minutes apart with headphones in #extrovertedintrovertthings. I love these kinds of friends.
The moral of the story is, I was listening to an ep Johan was doing with the boys on The Imperfects Podcast (highly recommend this poddy if you’re not already on it) and realised I was craving time off my phone. I already have regular points in my day where I switch it on Do Not Disturb and go for a walk, or leave it at home, but as my job is all online I have been really feeling the impact my increase in screen time has been having on my attention span. I had just spontaneously booked flights to Bali to catch up with friends and had decided I was going to take the week off work and log out of social media, but after listening to this podcast I decided I wanted a complete technology detox.
No internet. No phone. No computer. 4 days in the forest and the mountains of Ubud practicing yoga. Disconnecting from the outside world to check in with my inside world. Dreamy, right?
I was with friends in Canggu beforehand and in Uluwatu afterwards, but went to Ubud solo (which I love doing) as kind of yoga retreat. But with no friends with me when I switched off, it meant I had no form of being contacted in Ubud (which I also loved). I had told my family I was switching off and called my Mum before I turned my phone off.
“You can just turn it on for an hour each day to check you’re not missing anything urgent though if you want?” She said to me.
“Nope, no internet at all Mum.” I responded. “It’s 4 days, whatever it is can wait.” I told her what room I was staying in and my accommodation in case she needed me for anything urgent, and then I switched my phone onto airplane mode and left it in my room.
When I bought my class pass package at Yoga Barn, I asked them to print out a copy of the timetable for me (it was pretty clear they didn’t get asked this very often). As I went and sat down in the cafe, ordered a cacao, and started circling the classes I wanted to go to, I noticed how many people were sat scrolling on their phones. Very much realising I may have been one of them had I not had one. I couple of times I had already instinctively gone to to reach for it.
This already sparked attention from a lovely Nepalise couple next to me, and a French man in front of them, and before long we were all deep in conversation talking about dharma (your life purpose), satya (your true essence) and everything in between. A conversation I would have perhaps missed entirely had I been scrolling Instagram rather than being in the present moment, circling yoga classes with pen and paper.
Before my next class I began talking to an African American girl my age, and we decided to go for dinner after our classes (she was going to a different one to me). I told her I didn’t have my phone so we’d just have meet back here at a certain time. When we did, she had another Dutch friend she’d made in class and we all went off to dinner together. That’s one of my favourite things about Bali (and Yoga Barn)- within one afternoon, at one spot, I’d already had beautiful connections with people from 4 different countries.
Over the next four days I noticed many things about not having technology. The first was how many people said, “That’s so cool, but I could never do that. You’re so strong.” Does it really take that much strength, just to disconnect? Although I did see the cogs turning in peoples brains as they seriously contemplated what that would look like for them.
Could you? How would you feel if you closed your eyes right now and pictured turning off your phone for 4 days? I thought I was one of the most reliant on technology because I had to be for work, but most of these people had no real pressing reason to be on it, and yet still couldn’t fathom being without it.
The second was how much me not having a phone, encouraged others to put theirs away. At meals, exploring new locations, at events, it had a knock on effect. One I’m hoping will also have a knock on effect.
The third was how completely unprepared for it I was. I didn’t have a watch, so most of the time I had no way of telling time. Although that did encourage conversations with people. I had no maps, so if I went on a bigger scooter adventure I had someone drop a pin on the little of my google maps that had still been loaded from my internet. It was also comforting from a safety perspective to have my phone there for emergencies on these adventures should I need it. It did make me think about how much different solo travel would have been 15 years ago with out mobiles and internet. Would I feel as safe as I do solo travelling, if I didn’t have access to it?
The fourth was how easy it was, and how I did not miss it or crave turning it on at all. Social media I missed the least, but maybe that’s because it’s my job to be on it. Having no form of contact with new connections, meant I valued the encounters I did have even more because I wasn’t sure if I’d ever see them again. I exchanged my details with a few people and said I’d reach out when I turned it back on, but a lot of them were going different ways after Ubud, so it kind of made it even more special.
Another was capturing moments with my phone camera. I thought I would miss being able to capture the moments I was having, but mostly it made me realise how many captured moments I’ve actually never looked at again. So instead of taking it with me as a camera, I chose to just experience the moment instead. There were a couple of places I did take it though (securely on airplane mode) – one was a stunning waterfall I’m sure many of you have seen on my Instagram, and another was to video a slice of a beautiful Kirtan session I went to so I could share it with Mum, as I know she would have loved to be there.
One of the key things I realised however, was how much I picked my phone up as a self-conscious act of being alone. Sitting waiting for your meal in cafe, waiting for a friend at a restaurant, laying on a sun bed by a communal pool. It was those times were I could be ‘seen’ as alone, that I instinctively wanted to reach out and be busy on my phone. It made me realise that in my self-conscious behaviour though, that I was probably missing out on the moment, and new connections. So instead I would pick up Shantaram (tell you what – if you want to get through a 1,000 page book faster, I recommend turning off your phone!), or I would simply sit, and be still. Observe. Smile at strangers. Start conversations and go to dinner with people I wouldn’t normally pick to. That was the biggest learning for me.
The longer I went without my phone and the notifications, the easier I found it to stay present and focused on whatever I was doing in that moment. Reading a book, keeping my attention on my breath, meditating.
It’s these little moments I’ve brought home with me even though my phone and laptop are very much back in use. Going for a solo coffee and not taking my phone, or not looking at it as I wait. It’s easy enough to do this in a new, exciting place with opportunities everywhere, but I wasn’t sure if it would be harder at home. Turns out it’s not, and it’s helping me to stay grounded in the present moment more and more.
It’s made me slow down. Appreciate and take in the beauty of my surroundings in the simple moments. To be even more open to new connections, whether they’re hiding in the coffee store or on a walk by the river. To minimise distraction. To realise how little social media really matters.
I recommend going phone free by choice for an hour every day. Or at least putting it on DND. It’s one thing going camping out of service, where you’re forced to be uncontactable. But when you’re making that decision consciously, knowing all it takes is to just switch that little button off airplane mode and you’ll be back in contact, it makes the decision all the more empowering.
I’m not sure we can really be still, peaceful and quiet within, without switching off our phones for even a little part of each day. If we remove our bodies from the chaos of the city and escape to the mountains, but feed our mind the sirens of notifications, the traffic of apps, and the intersections of the directions each of our friends lives are taking on social media, how do we really create silence? How do we stay present? I am very willing to be wrong though.
When you begin to go phone free for small periods of time, you’ll realise that not a lot actually floods through in an hour that requires your immediate attention. Most can actually wait, and when we give ourselves this time to reset, our focus and attention on those tasks is far more efficient.
From all the conversations with strangers, waterfalls with new friends, classes with inspiring teachers, and scooter rides with locals, my main take homes from Ubud were this:
- Meditate daily. Even if it’s just for 10 minutes. Yoga is really just the preparation our body needs to take us to that state of peace and quiet. Simply sitting, and being still. With your Self (capital intended).
- Nature is our biggest teacher and our biggest healer. It’s amazing how much unplugging and walking in nature can change your mood. Also do this daily if you can (again, even for just 20 mins).
Also: do your yoga, eat good food, connect with your loved ones without distraction, and laugh often. But you know that.