Fluffy flakes of snow fell all around me—in the evergreens, on my red ski jacket, and over the field of moguls just beyond the tips of my skis. I took a breath, tightened the grip on my poles, and slid over the edge into a foot of powdery paradise.
It wasn’t supposed to snow more than a few flurries the night before, but on our way to the Prohibition Pig for some local brews and bbq, the flakes started falling. When we left a few hours later, we had to dust the truck and put it in four wheel drive for the winding road back to the b&b. And then that morning, we were supposed to head south and home, but while we ate our cinnamon scones fresh from the oven and sipped our coffee, we looked out into the world of white and I knew I couldn’t leave without one last dip.
I’ve struggled lately to stay in the moment, to keep my brain focused on one thing at a time. One or other of my electronic gadgets always seems to be begging me to see what’s going on in the rest in the rest of the world . . . in someone else’s moment. Sometimes it’s the discovery of a sea on Saturn’s moon via the NYTimes online. More often it’s the discovery of a celebrity’s uncoupling via FB. Synapses in my brain are momentarily sparked, until my thumb scrolls down to the next article or email or tweet. By the time I resurface, I feel as though I’ve been eating too much cotton candy.
This never happens when I’m doing something physical. When my skis curve around the first mogul, or when I throw the squash ball up for the first serve, or I utter my first om in yoga, my body reminds me of the need and the pleasure of focusing on one single thing. And if I don’t, I end up spread-eagle on the snow, quickly down a pack of points, or doing the falling tree instead of the standing one. With focus, though, I can swoop through a sea of moguls, sending signals to my knees to stay soft, my upper body firmly directed downhill, and my arms leading the way. When I do this, it’s a beautiful thing. I’m totally in the moment, the moment of doing something well.
So why when being in the moment is so incredibly gratifying, do I let myself and my time be sucked away by the unfocused moments of e-everything? I don’t know where I fall in the heap of procrastination temptation, but give me something I really should do and I’ll give you a nice long ride on a web wave instead. Until I come to my senses and realize I can get what I’m supposed to do done and feel pretty good about it, too.
Obviously, it’s easier to focus on something physical rather than mental – at least, it’s much more natural to me; once you’re on the court or the mountain or your yoga mat, there’s not much else to distract you. But it seems like many of the other places and activities where we used to be fully engaged (reading books, socializing with friends, even sleeping) are now being interrupted by the beeping, buzzing, or our own checking of our gadgets. I love that I can read books on my iPad in the middle of the night, but I also hate that I now wake up and reach for it.
I like myself best when I’m fully present in the moment. And I love how doing a sport or activity that requires a lot of focus makes me very conscious and aware of the world around me, how I fit into that world. And these days, I’m often aware that the increasingly few places where people aren’t checking their phones are whenever they’re running around, too. Slow them down and the gadgets come out.
It’s human nature to desire entertainment, but it’s scary to me that we’re increasingly seeking it in smaller and more frequent portions and often not involving the world or the people directly around us. Get into any elevator or train/subway/bus or line at Starbucks and most if not all the people are looking at their phones.
The writer Peter Matthiessen who died earlier this month, once said “There is no reality apart from the here and now.” Debate that if you will, but I don’t want to waste my reality by doubling my chin over my phone. There’s no more snow to ski and I’m nowhere near a squash court today, but the trees are bursting green and pink, the birds are singing, and I’m leaving my phone at home for the reality of what’s around me, not what’s on my screen. Want to get in touch? Come find me.