As I sat at my table waiting for my apologetically tardy lunch date I entered fully into the culture around me – particularly those who were also sitting alone. Every one of us was deeply engaged in the cultural norm of what one does when one is alone (and sometimes even when we’re with others), especially in a public place. We pull out our phones and begin scrolling, reading, tapping, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat.
I took my eyes off the screen for just a millisecond to look toward the entrance and see if my lunch companion had per chance arrived and that’s when I had a new level of awareness for just how many folks were staring at their screens. Pausing for a moment, providing me space to reflect on the reality I was immersed in, a question from my spiritual director came to mind, “Regardless of the context, can you sit with yourself and just be present with the world around you?” Ah, the colliding of two worlds!
Thanks to the teaching and guiding of wonderful elders and mentors I have been engaged in contemplative and mindfulness practices for a very long time. The staples of daily practices and silent retreats have significantly shaped my world. AND, the second I do not have something else occupying my attention, I immediately look at my iPhone.
Theologian and author Frederick Buechner puts a very fine point on the importance of being present in the moment, “The point is to see [today] for what it is because it will be gone before you know it. If you waste it, it is your life that you are wasting. If you look the other way, it may be the moment you’ve been waiting for always that you’re missing. All other days have either disappeared into darkness and oblivion or not yet emerged from them. Today is the only day there is.”
I know I have missed incredible beauty because I was looking down at my phone. I know I have lost opportunities to witness an amazing moment because I was entranced with my phone. I know I have not been fully engaged with others around me because I was lost in some virtual reality.
vI wonder how much of this holy time of year has passed by already because I was otherwise occupied. Maybe the greatest gift I can give and receive this year is to spend more time in truly being present.