In today’s Weekend Agenda, Matt Walker, psychologist and mountain guide, shares his perspective on the confluence of technology, adventure, and mindfulness.
Today, March 5th, is National Day of Unplugging and we will be honoring that for 24 hours at the end of business today. 24 hours of disconnection and untethering to be more present with the natural world and the most significant relationships in our lives.
Take a moment to read Matt's thoughts on how we can all be more intentional with our connection to the digital world and how we can slow down to experience moments of mindfulness throughout our days. Then we invite you to join us in taking a day of disconnecting and being present.
President Theodore Roosevelt famously quipped: comparison is the thief of joy. I posit that our collective technology addiction is the thief of adventure.
As a psychologist and mountain guide who has guided climbs and expeditions on every continent for the past twenty-five years, I have seen the full breadth of human behavior in the mountains and on expedition – good and bad. But, the most significant behavioral change I have experienced during my tenure is how we relate and use technology.
The shift in our relationship with nature and adventure is in direct proportion to our dependence and use of handheld technology. We are not as present, engaged, or connected to each other as a result of this relationship. I want to be clear, I am not a crumbly old man with a disdain for technology, but I am acutely aware of the impact the digital world has on our mental health, well-being, and ability to be present – it’s time to be honest with ourselves, acknowledge it, and begin to address it.
When our phone is in hand while in nature, our mind has no choice but to race with distraction and we superficially skim the surface of the moment. The modern world has conditioned us to be fueled by our never satiated relationship with technology.
Imagine taking a long hike to the top of a butte at sunset, only to record video for an audience on social media as opposed to truly soaking in the moment. The rectangle in our pocket is always nearby; an app notifying us of a new like, a text alert, an email, the urge to constantly take images to share online. By trying to stay connected with the outside world, we miss what’s happening on the inside.
I am not a luddite. I am a fellow addicted phone user. The dopamine hit is real. The lure of distraction is soothing. Fortunately, through acknowledging we have an addiction to our phones we can begin to rewind and consider how we want to live in the world and spend our time.
I implore you to pause. Consider. And become ever intentional with your most precious resource: your attention.
Mindfulness is our opportunity to regain our loss of attention – it is the practice of focusing our attention on the present moment, without judgement, and with a heightened awareness of our experience: our emotions, thoughts, and sensations.
Mindfulness, while helpful as a meditative practice, is an active experience. And we can begin by untethering from the very device that steals our attention: our phone.
The ‘15 Minutes of Peace’ is a mindful movement experience. From the outside it looks like a simple walk through your neighborhood, a local park, or trail. But this isn’t an ordinary walk around the block.
This exercise is helpful anytime, but especially as a mid-day break from our digital days of WFH spent on screens and pulled in different directions. Leave your phone at home and step away.
The intention of this walk is to move slowly, breathe, notice, and maintain curiosity. To literally create space that was previously occupied by your digital tether. This may feel disorienting at first. You won’t be plugged into a podcast or playlist, you won’t be able to fire off a quick text, or look something up – just you and the world, moving at the speed of slow.
Find a place to walk outside. Before you begin your walk, take three deep breaths with three deep exhalations. And begin walking. Slowly.
Begin to notice. The details. The colors. The smells. The sounds. The beauty will be in the minutiae surrounding you. Notice your breath as you move. Are you holding it? Are your shoulders relaxed or raised up next to your ears in tension? Enjoy the pace of slow movement – acknowledge the itch of digital connection and allow it to pass.
What are you drawn to? What captures your attention? Is there a pattern? Can you hold you attention on one thing a little longer than you are comfortable? Can you release the voice in your head that you “should” be doing something – release any semblance of self-judgement?
When you are ready, return home or simply close the practice with a pause. Stop walking, three deep breaths and three deep exhalations. Drop your shoulders and continue your day.
The goal is not to cultivate happiness or peacefulness, although that may occur, but to cultivate awareness. Nor is the goal to be free of thought – instead, we are aware of and notice our thoughts just as we notice clouds in the sky pass over, ever shifting and in motion. And mindfulness doesn’t require setting aside a block of time to practice – your life is already set up for mindfulness, it’s always available to us at any moment. It is here and now.
The only skills you need for this practice are: noticing the present moment, staying connected to your body and the sensations of movement and the environment, recognizing thoughts and emotions as transient, and engaging in curiosity.
It may not feel too adventurous to take a 15-minute walk around the block – on the face of it, it really isn’t. But the ultimate adventure in life is discovering who we are, practicing living in the present moment, and embracing uncertainty – that is where the magic happens and this practice is a step closer to that experience.
Mindfulness is the ability to be present in the current moment, with curiosity, self-awareness, and without judgement. Imagine how our relationship with nature and adventure could shift with a little more presence and a little less digital interference.
You can learn more about Matt’s perspective on adventure, mindfulness, and intentional living on IG at @mattwalkeradventure