Say what you will about my digital addictions because it’s all true. I give my phone more attention than my appearance. I troll Twitter instead of taking those “mini meditation moments” I’m always recommending to myself. Interrupt me when I’m working on my daily New York Time crossword puzzle—on my device, of course—at your peril. Ask my husband.
This morning, I made yet another deal with myself, the latest salvo in the endless negotiations between the inner angel and the addict, to Do Better. Scoff, if you’ve heard this all before. I know I have.
Today, I bargained that I could have 20 minutes of screen time AFTER I first ate a healthy breakfast outdoors in my garden. If that sounds like a deal you make with a toddler, you’re spot on. Even though I champion the healing powers of mindful time in Nature, my inner toddler demands bribery to do anything that smacks of “good-for-me.”
You may be wondering how many “inners” reside in this madhouse I call my Self. I wish I knew. I vow to take a census count someday, whenever the monkeys allow me enough peace to accomplish it.
Where was I? Yes, eating breakfast and sitting in the garden, my mind blissfully (agonizingly) free of digital distractions, contemplating the day ahead. And by “day ahead,” I mean the next five to ten minutes. Tapping my fingers, muttering about the idiot who agreed to this deal, I suddenly detected the sweet sounds of the serenading songbirds overhead. I mean, I really heard them. Then the sugary scent of blooming jasmine wafted over me, and my forearms broke out into goosebumps of delight. How could any Tik Tok compare?
In the spaciousness of those scant digital-free minutes, I flashed back, first to the balcony on our old apartment downtown, then the concrete bench outside my old office building and on to so many other spots where I used to perch years and years ago. Back when a single lure inspired me out of doors with nary a complaint: Cigarettes.
I always knew that my cigarette habit was more about the excuse to pause, to step away, to kick back for a few moments than anything else. Because that’s what I learned from my mom. So many of my earliest memories feature her taking a break from her homemaking labors, pouring herself a cup of coffee, then plopping into a kitchen chair with a satisfactory sigh. When she lit that cigarette an expression akin to ecstasy, or what I knew of it then, crossed her face. She’d savor that cigarette the way I did a popsicle on a sweltering, sticky hot summer day.
Cigarettes must the grown-up version of popsicles, I’d surmised. I’ll have what she’s having. Sure, I later heard all the lectures about the dangers of smoking. But that just made the allure all the greater. “Just this one.”
So as I sat in the garden today, recalling times when I have relished that nicotine-inspired pause, a thought popped into mind. Could my “just gonna check my phone” habit be my healthier version of the old smoke break? I mean, wasting time on funny cat videos sure beats destroying my lungs, right? Because, sadly, lung cancer is what took my mom from me at too young an age.
I’m sure my lungs appreciate the substitution, and I pat myself on the back for kicking the habit all those years ago. I gaze at my phone with fondness, appreciating all the nicotine-free breaks it’s given me.
Or is that just my inner addict talking, delighted for any excuse to romp in a taboo as delicious as guilt-free screen time? Which gives me another kind of pause. I know I’m in trouble anytime the inner addict is delighted.
Drat. I was already getting attached to this particular Bad Habit Justification. When will I ever learn that I need nothing outside of myself—not tobacco, not wine, not even a hundred likes on my Insta post—to feel the sort of pleasure that once came with the first puff? Because I have learned, over the years, that deep meditation, potent prayer, and steeping in the serenades of songbirds produces a far deeper euphoria, one that transcends a momentary buzz.
Inner addict doesn’t like it, but I’ll make a new deal with her tomorrow. Because that’s what we do.
I reached for my phone, set the timer app to ten minutes, then moved the device out of reach of my toddler hands. I eased back into my chair, slowed my breath, and tuned back into the natural show in my midst. For all of ten minutes.