How to Be Mindful When Checking Your Phone

Aug 18, 2021 10:36:00 AM / by Christine Valters Paintner


How many times a day do you check your phone? If you’re anything like me, you might not even be able to count because it happens so many times, and often so mindlessly. It used to be that the phone was just for making and receiving calls; we would never have thought to pick it up to just look at it. Even when we added mobility and text capability, we’d only pick it up when we needed to make or receive a call or send a message. 

Now we are connected to email, work, apps, social media, a constant stream of news, games, films, and other entertainment. There is so much good that technology brings to our lives, but its shadow side is how much time and energy it steals from us when we allow it. It is so easy to forget why you even picked up your phone in the first place as you go down another rabbit hole of information. 

We do not need to demonize our phones or technology; we simply need to bring more awareness to our time spent with devices. A prayer is a way to bring gratitude for the many gifts it brings and also mindfulness about when we are just bored and looking for distraction. 

Breath prayers are a way to help me slow down and savor my experience, to pause and reflect on what I have encountered, to anticipate what I will commit myself to doing next. In the heart of whatever thing I am doing, whether working or showering or eating, I can find a sanctuary space in each moment that allows me to also cultivate my capacity for just being, bringing that gift to each time of doing so there is more restfulness in each activity. I can yield my need to be productive and offer up my practice to the Holy One. We can extend this even further beyond the daily tasks of life to our work in the world. Breath prayers help to sustain us by offering a deep well of nourishment we can drink from in the midst of our activities. They help to replenish us for the real and necessary work of being a healing presence in the world with our neighbors and communities.

When we pray with the rhythm of the breath, it provides us an anchor in the midst of whatever we are doing. Breath is our constant companion, as is our heartbeat, and these gentle risings and fallings offer us the gift of a kind of scaffolding for our prayers.

As you inhale, whisper to yourself: Let this be a vessel for connection, 

As you exhale, say softly: bringing me fully present. 

This breath prayer invites us to remember how we want (and do not want) to use our mobile devices. When we bring the intention of letting it connect us to others and the world, and recognize when time spent on it moves to a place of distraction or numbness, we can become more mindful about how we engage technology. 

Breathe in: Let this be a vessel for connection, 

Breathe out: bringing me fully present. 

As you repeat this prayer to yourself, notice if there are any images that arise when you breathe in a sense of connection. Similarly, notice what arises when you breathe out presence and release any numbing or avoidance. Let yourself drop deeply into this rhythm of embracing connection and releasing numbness. You might even simplify the prayer so that when you breathe in, you gently say to yourself connect, and when you breathe out, you say presence, while holding an image of release that comes naturally with the exhalation. 

I find that boundaries around my screen time really nourish me well. I try to put my phone in a drawer at night so I am not tempted to reach for it if I awaken in the middle of the night. I can also allow myself some time before trying to sleep where I read or journal without screens and the same thing when I first awaken. I love those quiet threshold moments between sleeping and awakening for meditation and presence. 

These kinds of boundaries help me to remember that I am not at the mercy of other people’s demands on my time and attention. Because I work for myself, there is always something I could be doing, something I could be responding to. I imagine it is much the same even when you work for someone else. How many of us feel the need to always be available? 

In his poem “How to Be a Poet,” Wendell Berry gives advice to “stay away from screens.” The poetry of life most often is revealed through engagement with what feels real, what we experience through our senses. 

I wouldn’t want to be without the gift of technology and yet it is also what exhausts me the most. Bringing my breath and prayerful attention to how I engage with it allows it to be life-giving rather than draining. 

BL Breath Prayer

This is an excerpt from Breath Prayer: Checking Your Phone.

Topics: Excerpt

Christine Valters Paintner

Written by Christine Valters Paintner

Christine Valters Paintner is the online abbess at the Abbey of the Arts, a virtual global monastery without walls, offering retreats, classes, books, and resources to nurture contemplative practice and creative expression. A writer, artist, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, and teacher, she earned her PhD in Christian spirituality from the Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley and is a Registered Expressive Arts Consultant and Educator (REACE). Paintner is author of The Artist's Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom. She and her husband, John, live on the west coast of Ireland, where together they shepherd Abbey of the Arts and lead pilgrimages.

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