The speed at which digital device usage has spread is phenomenal. Many of us are spending hours of our time each day using these devices – usually looking at screens. I’m referring to things like phones, computers, tablets, TVs, virtual reality headsets and smart watches.
There’s an exponentially increasing number of digitally enabled processes. From ordering products online, to paying a bill in a restaurant or organizing a meeting with friends.
We’re following digital processes when we’re communicating through messaging and other online channels. More and more processes are becoming digitized. The reason why some people are resistant and suffering, is that they don’t know how to use their devices consciously. Because of the exponential rise in digital device usage, and a growing number of device addictions and problems, it felt right for me to address digital device usage directly and highlight it as a key area of practice for everybody.
When I was considering this guideline, I soon realized there are enough pointers to fill a book dedicated to digital device usage. I produced a shorter, high-level list of principles that encompass all of the detailed guidance. These are called ‘The Seven Principles of Conscious Digital Device Usage.’ If you follow these, you’ll align your digital device usage with what The Process needs. Practicing these principles will help humanity evolve through the digital era, as well as allowing you to live a life of harmony today.
The Seven Principles of Conscious Digital Device Usage
- Only use a device when it’s really needed
- Stay mindful during device usage
- Be kind to your body during device usage
- Communicate selectively, truthfully and skillfully during device usage
- Have time away from your devices every day
- Take opportunities for real human contact
- Accept that digital device usage is part of life
1. Only Use A Device When It’s Really Needed
Digital device usage is aligned when it’s responding to a real need. Here are some examples:
- You’re lost somewhere and need to use your phone to find directions.
- You check your computer for an important email you’re expecting.
- You look at your phone to see who’s calling before deciding whether to answer.
- You use your computer to do your work.
- You share something on social media that you know people will need.
These are examples of what I call conscious usage; you respond to a need. Unconscious usage, on the other hand, is when you use the device reactively without a real need. Some examples of this are:
- You feel lonely, so you reach for your phone without even thinking about it, and log onto social media.
- You enter a queue at a retail outlet. You automatically look at your phone without consciously deciding to do so.
- You’re working on your computer and concentrating on an important task. A notification pops up for an email that can be responded to later. You read the email straight away and interrupt the task you needed to get done.
- You’re missing your ex-partner. You look at their social media feed, and check out who they’ve been dating even although you know it upsets you.
Without making a conscious decision, many people’s minds are programmed to reach for their device, switch it on, and hunt for stimulus. Because much of the content is personalized and supports people’s identifications, their egos love it!
When we’re not present during usage, the ego uses the content to reinforce its identifications. It also makes comparisons with others to enhance its false sense of self and separateness.
Using a device as an escape from the present moment, usually to avoid unpleasant feelings, is also a form of unconscious usage. It’s a form of addiction. The ego is using the device to escape from something that’s unpleasant. It’s similar to when a smoker lights a cigarette if they’re feeling emotional.
The first truth about unconscious usage is that it takes people away from life. It takes them away from the present moment, and into a dream about the past or future. This is something we’re just beginning to realize. When useful things like smart phones get introduced to the masses, they get used inappropriately and turn into a global addiction.
The second truth about unconscious usage and any addiction, is that it prevents people from facing unpleasant feelings and healing emotional pain. The only way to heal is to be present with your feelings.
Making It Second Nature To Stop! – Check – Use
I created and use a technique called Stop! – Check – Use. It helps me check that I’m only using my devices when I really need to. It involves creating a habit of stopping every time you experience a desire to use a device: Stop! Then take a second or two to check you really ‘need’ to use it: Check. You can then make a conscious decision as to whether you should then Use the device, or Let go of using it at that moment in time. It’s a quick technique to apply and after using it a few times, over a few days, you’ll create a habit.
Stop! – Check – Use
2. Stay Mindful During Device Usage
This second principle should be applied when you’ve made a conscious decision to use the device. If you’ve applied Stop! – Check – Use or a similar technique, you’ll already be mindful when you begin use. Being mindful, or being present, is about being aware and accepting of your experience.
There are three big factors that influence your ability to stay mindful during usage. The first is how mindful you are before you start using the device. The second is how you respond or react to the content that’s presented to you. And the third is how simple the device is to use.
Here are twelve tips to help you stay mindful during digital device usage:
1 Only access content and enable notifications that are really needed
When you’re accessing content that you really need, you’ll be better placed to stay mindful. If you access content that you don’t need, it’s highly likely that you’ll get lost in thoughts and emotions.
Consciously decide what content you’re going to access on your device. Also, take responsibility for notifications and alerts. Only configure notifications and real time updates that you definitely need. Otherwise, let go of the distractions and choose when you access things. The more unnecessary notifications you react to, the less you’ll be in control of your state of mind when you access their content. Unnecessary notifications distract you from other activities that require your full attention.
2 Avoid content you know will trigger negative reactions
If there’s content that you know is going to push your buttons, triggering you to become lost in your thoughts and emotions, avoid it. Otherwise, you’re harming yourself. You wouldn’t put your hand in a fire. In the same way, don’t compromise your energy or alignment by exposing yourself to difficult content. This might mean avoiding certain websites, TV shows, or social media feeds.
I’ll often mute social media feeds from people my ego finds difficult rather than disconnecting from them altogether. It keeps communication open, with the option of re-engaging later, as and when it’s more appropriate to do so.
3 If possible, ensure you use good quality digital devices
This is especially true if you spend a lot of time on them. It’s going to be much easier to stay mindful if you’re working on a device that’s fast and simple to use. Rather than one that’s sluggish and complex. When technology appears to be working against you, it’s even more challenging to stay mindful.
4 Configure your devices to make them easier to use
There’s a correlation between simplicity and being mindful. There’s lots you can do to simplify devices, including removing unwanted apps and freeing up space to help make the device go faster. Even detail such as configuring menus and shortcuts that suit your usage will simplify things. If you don’t know how then ask somebody technical for support. A friend or store assistant might be able to help.
5 Keep some awareness on your breath or bodily sensations
This is a de facto technique used to become mindful and retain mindfulness.
6 Be aware of thoughts and feelings
If you’re able to, observe your thoughts and feelings whilst using devices. This will keep you aware and present. If you catch your thoughts turning negative or experience unpleasant feelings, stop using the device for a moment. Review what you’re experiencing or communicating.
7 Monitor internal resistance
If you catch yourself in a state of resistance as you use your device, then something needs to change. Internal resistance indicates misalignment. You either need to bring acceptance to your experience with whatever content you’re involved in or avoid the content. Internal resistance can also manifest when the body’s uncomfortable or you need a break from usage.
8 Be aware of the space between you and the screen
For devices with screens, there’s space between your eyes and the screen. Be aware of that space at the same time as you’re looking at the screen. This will protect your mind from getting lost in the content. Awareness of space helps you stay mindful.
9 Take breaks from using your device
Briefly look away from your screen every few minutes. Rest your eyes or look at something else in your physical environment. Something natural like a plant or the sky if possible. Every twenty minutes or so, have a break to do something physical. Even if it’s a quick stand or stretch. This will refresh you and keep you alert. It’s far more challenging to stay mindful when you’re tired.
10 Change your device’s aesthetics
Change your background or screen saver now and again; or rearrange icons in a way that’s optimized for your current usage. This will keep your digital experience fresh. Changes in what we see and experience helps us to stay mindful.
11 Be kind to your body during device usage
When the body’s comfortable it’s easier to stay mindful.
12 Communicate selectively, truthfully, and skillfully during usage
Skillful communication and mindfulness go together. When you’re communicating skillfully, you’re mindful. And when you’re mindful, you communicate skillfully.
The asynchronous nature of messaging can help us to communicate more mindfully. Messaging allows us to pause for longer than we might during communication in person or over the phone. Before reading or sending a message, you may observe a brief pause, and use that to check that you’re present. Whatever communication follows immediately from that will be aligned.
7. Accepting That Digital Device Usage Is A Part Of Life
For the vast majority of us, the use of digital devices including phones and computers is essential. More and more services like banking and shopping are becoming exclusively available via digital channels. In the future, I believe that it will be virtually impossible to get by in life without the use of digital devices.
I know people who resist digital devices. They believe they should be able to do everything via traditional non-digital means. Other people resist digital devices because they believe that using them is compromising their experience in one way or another. I’m sure this is true in some cases and everybody’s entitled to their opinions. Opinions are harmless when you don’t identify with them.
However, resisting is what causes harm. Expecting the world to be less digital than it is now is like trying to turn back time and change things. It’s impossible. It’s draining when you crave for things now to be different to how they are now.
The upshot to all of this is that we need to accept and embrace digital devices. The way we engage with them is going to influence future generations.
We have quite a responsibility. I’m hoping that we can enjoy all the positive benefits, live with the shortcomings and take responsibility for using them consciously. This is by far the best approach if we wish to live a life of harmony.
(Editor's Note: Due to excerpt limitations, we have presented principles 1, 2, and 7. The others are available in the book.)
Copyright 2019 by Darren Cockburn. All Rights Reserved.
Publisher: Findhorn Press, an imprint of
Inner Traditions Intl. www.innertraditions.com
Living a Life of Harmony: Seven Guidelines for Cultivating Peace and Kindness
by Darren Cockburn
The author explores how the 7 easy-to-practice guidelines help us gain a deeper understanding of the universal process of life, as well as provide a set of tools to help us deal with life’s ups and downs more skillfully. They enable us to face life empowered and confident, peacefully observe and accept what life presents us with, cultivate compassion and kindness, as well as spread mindfulness to those around us. Practiced together, these guidelines provide a simple yet powerful compass to guide you to a peaceful mind and harmonious living, much needed in today’s world.
About the Author
Darren Cockburn has been practicing meditation and mindfulness for over 20 years, studying with a range of teachers from different religions. As a coach and teacher, he has supported hundreds of people in meditation, mindfulness, and finding a connection to spirituality, with a focus on applying spiritual teachings in everyday life to cultivate a peaceful mind. Darren is also the author of Being Present. Visit his website at https://darrencockburn.com/