July 14, 2021 Sujeev Shakya

Digital Detox: Exploring Mindfulness and Awareness

Gadgets have taken over our lives. E-habits have become so entrenched into our day to day lives, that people are known to face withdrawal and distress on being cut off from gadgets and internet.  Personally I was keen to figure out a way to get Digitally Detoxed and spend time without gadgets. Challenging myself, I then committed to a ten day meditation retreat with this intent.

The retreat I opted for was a rare one that combined meditation along with being ordained as a monk. It was organized on the occasion of the 78th birthday; or 1000 moons of the venerable Jnanapurnika Mahasthavira. Apart from the digital detox, I was also keen to be a part of this retreat as I have been exploring the theme of Buddha as a Coach, in search of mindfulness, awareness and presence.

The schedule of the retreat was demanding; with days beginning at 4am at the sound of a ringing bell, followed by thirty minutes of getting ready and into our robes. Accommodation and bathrooms were shared and cleaned communally among the attendees. At 4:30am, we had to show up for a walking meditation, and then from 5am the schedule alternated between walking meditation and sitting mediation every hour till we retired at 10pm. Two meals were served in a day, one at 6am and the other at 11am; as under one of the disciplines one should refrain from eating after noon.

There were no gadgets and nothing to read or write as the point of the retreat was to ensure that the mind does not wander. All in all, we were to do nothing; an extremely difficult task for a mind that is used to doing so much is suddenly asked to do nothing. Even the eyes were not allowed to wander and we were to keep visual contact within three feet. Meanwhile eyes needed to be half closed; very much like the images of Buddha, and we were to keep silent, and not even talk to each other. From day three onwards, we were allowed to speak while sharing our experiences with the teacher.

Whenever I have traveled in the past, digital communication platforms have ensured that I have been able to keep in touch with my family on a perennial basis, be it through phones or messages on social media platforms. During the retreat, I did not miss work, gadgets or talking, but I did miss my family a lot despite being just over a kilometer away from home.

Many questions rolled over my head as I emerged out of the retreat. I longed to see my family and be with them. On the penultimate day, when the vow of silence was broken and I could just see them, I realized that I had never felt happier in life. It is these little things that drive us and perhaps not the big ones I thought that are important in life. This moment made me realize my priorities and the importance of other little things that we often take for granted.

In books on the subject mediation is described as an experience where you walk while you walk, eat while you eat and sleep while you sleep. On that note, this retreat helped emphasize how we are often completely unaware of what we do, and how we do it. One of the key takeaways for me was to be aware of every moment that we are living- from the time you open your eyes in the morning to the time you shut your eyes at night. We do hundreds of mundane tasks every day, and we just need to be aware of what we do. And ultimately everything that we do, hear or see helps to build our awareness, whether it is the noise we make while eating, the noise our slippers make while walking or the way we react to other people snoring. That is simply the meditative practice we need to build; simple sounding, but so tough to execute.

At the graduation Chyoki Nyima Rinpoche; meditation master and renowned Buddhist teacher, spoke on how following five basic precepts; i.e. to abstain from harming living beings, take what is not given, sexual misconduct, lying or gossip and intoxication, laid down by Buddha can make the world a different place. If those five percepts are followed:

· There will be no war; there will be peace.
· There will be no greed; there will be gratitude and satisfaction.
· There will be no need to  discuss the impact of Climate Change as people will be doing less harm to nature and learning to be content.

With unprecedented advancement in technology the interconnected world forces us to engage constantly through some medium or the other; more than we ever have in the past. Just being aware of our deeds, our wants, our greed and being able to distinguish what is necessary and what is not makes a world of difference in our individual lives.