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A meditation teacher’s 5 tips for breaking your screen addiction once and for all.

We’re all internet addicts. Here's how we can get clean.

I first realized I was a junkie during a meditation retreat in the California desert.

It was a silent retreat, so we turned in our phones and pledged not to speak for 10 days. Every morning, we walked to the dining hall just as the sun crested the mountains, and I paused for a few minutes to enjoy the sunrise. It was one of the highlights of my day — drinking in the beauty of the desert with no sense of hurry and nowhere I needed to be.


Image via iStock.

On the final morning, the retreat leaders announced that we could pick up our phones in the dining hall. As always, we walked to the hall just as the sun was rising. I glanced at the desert sunrise, gorgeous as ever ... then thought, “%*@$ it” and speed-walked to the dining hall to reunite with my phone. I mean, I might have texts!

As I hurried along, trading the glory of the desert sky for the chance to hunch over a tiny screen, it hit me: I was a junkie. And seeing my fellow retreat-ants trot alongside me with eager looks on their faces, I realized I wasn’t the only one.

Smartphones are amazing — I barely remember life before the poop emoji — but it’s time to admit that we have a bit of a problem.

Think about the last time you had dinner with a friend, and she got up to go to the bathroom. Be honest: Did you reach for your phone? Was there something specific you needed to look at, or was it just a reflex?

Most of us are addicted to distraction.

It's as if going a single second without something to occupy our minds would be intolerable. There's a compulsion to fill the empty space with something to read, watch, listen to, eat, etc.

This is a very old human problem. Scientist and philosopher Blaise Pascal nailed it back in the 17th century: "All men's miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone."

There’s no denying that the internet, especially our phones, have made the problem worse.

Photo via iStock.

We sit on the subway and play Candy Crush, which might be the biggest waste of time ever invented. We procrastinate on Facebook when our work gets a tiny bit boring. We scroll through Instagram while ignoring the friends we’re with. We leave Netflix on in the background while we try to fall asleep.

There’s a desperate quality to the way we binge on distractions, too.

We're so scared of a content-free moment that we maintain a frenzy of activity to stave it off. It's agitating and exhausting, but we've gotten so used to living this way that we barely notice.

How do we quit our addictions?

As a meditation teacher, I often teach the simple practice of non-distraction as a way to meditate: being quietly where you are, without reaching for some distraction or entertainment to fill the quiet.

This isn’t a complex technique; you just notice when the urge arises to do something and politely say, "No, thank you."

Here are five ways to practice this in your daily life:

1. The next time you take the subway, try not to pull out your phone, a book, or any other distraction from the time you board until you reach the next stop.

Instead, you might rest your attention gently on the sensation of breathing, observe the people around you, or do nothing in particular. See what it feels like to go just one stop with nothing to fill the moment.

This could be you someday, riding a packed train with joy and zen. Image via Anita Tung, used with permission.

While you're playing with this, the urge to do something might bubble up. That's OK. You can treat that as just one more interesting thing to observe.

2. When you need to walk somewhere, experiment with leaving your headphones in your pocket.

Decide not to listen to music or podcasts. Don't look at your phone. Enjoy the simplicity of walking without distractions.

3. Let's keep it real: You probably read on the toilet.

I'm not judging, but there are compelling reasons not to do this:

  1. Hygiene
  2. Risk of dropping phone in toilet
  3. It's gross (see point 1)
  4. Opportunity to practice non-distraction

So maybe try declaring your bathroom a non-reading zone...

4. Make your morning device-free.

Try staying away from your phone and computer until after you’ve washed up and eaten breakfast. You’ll start your morning in a mindful place and set a solid precedent for your day.

Pro tip: Put your phone on airplane mode the night before. That way, if you need to briefly use your phone (to check the time or the weather or something), you won’t get hit with a zillion notifications.

5. Speaking of notifications, do you really need to hear about it every time someone Snap-grams your Yik Yak? (I’m old.)

It’s hard enough to keep our noses out of our phones without them actively interrupting us to say, “Hey, look at me.” I’ve found it helpful to consider what notifications I could do without and then turn those off.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how anxious do those unread notifications make you feel? Photo via iStock.

I still get notifications for texts (of course) and for Twitter replies, but I turned off my email and Facebook notifications. It works for me.

Practicing non-distraction can be deeply rewarding, but it's not always fun.

Sometimes it feels pleasant and peaceful, so it's easy to stick with. Other times, your mind might feel twitchy, and resting in the quiet of the moment is a challenge. My suggestion: Do it anyway. The freedom you’ll discover is worth the slight effort involved.

Freedom doesn't advertise itself as strongly as distraction does, but it has far more to offer.

By letting go of distraction, we discover that a content-free moment is something to savor, not something to fear. When we drop the exhausting effort to fill every moment, we don't tumble into some hideous void.

Photo via iStock.

Instead, we might find simple contentment waiting under all the noise: a sense of being fundamentally OK.

Leah Menzies/TikTok

Leah Menzies had no idea her deceased mother was her boyfriend's kindergarten teacher.

When you start dating the love of your life, you want to share it with the people closest to you. Sadly, 18-year-old Leah Menzies couldn't do that. Her mother died when she was 7, so she would never have the chance to meet the young woman's boyfriend, Thomas McLeodd. But by a twist of fate, it turns out Thomas had already met Leah's mom when he was just 3 years old. Leah's mom was Thomas' kindergarten teacher.

The couple, who have been dating for seven months, made this realization during a visit to McCleodd's house. When Menzies went to meet his family for the first time, his mom (in true mom fashion) insisted on showing her a picture of him making a goofy face. When they brought out the picture, McLeodd recognized the face of his teacher as that of his girlfriend's mother.

Menzies posted about the realization moment on TikTok. "Me thinking my mum (who died when I was 7) will never meet my future boyfriend," she wrote on the video. The video shows her and McLeodd together, then flashes to the kindergarten class picture.

“He opens this album and then suddenly, he’s like, ‘Oh my God. Oh my God — over and over again,” Menzies told TODAY. “I couldn’t figure out why he was being so dramatic.”

Obviously, Menzies is taking great comfort in knowing that even though her mother is no longer here, they can still maintain a connection. I know how important it was for me to have my mom accept my partner, and there would definitely be something missing if she wasn't here to share in my joy. It's also really incredible to know that Menzies' mother had a hand in making McLeodd the person he is today, even if it was only a small part.

@speccylee

Found out through this photo in his photo album. A moment straight out of a movie 🥲

♬ iris - 🫶

“It’s incredible that that she knew him," Menzies said. "What gets me is that she was standing with my future boyfriend and she had no idea.”

Since he was only 3, McLeodd has no actual memory of Menzies' mother. But his own mother remembers her as “kind and really gentle.”

The TikTok has understandably gone viral and the comments are so sweet and positive.

"No the chills I got omggg."

"This is the cutest thing I have watched."

"It’s as if she remembered some significance about him and sent him to you. Love fate 😍✨"

In the caption of the video, she said that discovering the connection between her boyfriend and her mom was "straight out of a movie." And if you're into romantic comedies, you're definitely nodding along right now.

Menzies and McLeodd made a follow-up TikTok to address everyone's positive response to their initial video and it's just as sweet. The young couple sits together and addresses some of the questions they noticed pop up. People were confused that they kept saying McLeodd was in kindergarten but only 3 years old when he was in Menzies' mother's class. The couple is Australian and Menzies explained that it's the equivalent of American preschool.

They also clarified that although they went to high school together and kind of knew of the other's existence, they didn't really get to know each other until they started dating seven months ago. So no, they truly had no idea that her mother was his teacher. Menzies revealed that she "didn't actually know that my mum taught at kindergarten."

"I just knew she was a teacher," she explained.

She made him act out his reaction to seeing the photo, saying he was "speechless," and when she looked at the photo she started crying. McLeodd recognized her mother because of the pictures Menzies keeps in her room. Cue the "awws," because this is so cute, I'm kvelling.

Photo by Heather Mount on Unsplash

Actions speak far louder than words.

It never fails. After a tragic mass shooting, social media is filled with posts offering thoughts and prayers. Politicians give long-winded speeches on the chamber floor or at press conferences asking Americans to do the thing they’ve been repeatedly trained to do after tragedy: offer heartfelt thoughts and prayers. When no real solution or plan of action is put forth to stop these senseless incidents from occurring so frequently in a country that considers itself a world leader, one has to wonder when we will be honest with ourselves about that very intangible automatic phrase.

Comedian Anthony Jeselnik brilliantly summed up what "thoughts and prayers" truly mean. In a 1.5-minute clip, Jeselnik talks about victims' priorities being that of survival and not wondering if they’re trending at that moment. The crowd laughs as he mimics the actions of well-meaning social media users offering thoughts and prayers after another mass shooting. He goes on to explain how the act of performatively offering thoughts and prayers to victims and their families really pulls the focus onto the author of the social media post and away from the event. In the short clip he expertly expresses how being performative on social media doesn’t typically equate to action that will help victims or enact long-term change.

Of course, this isn’t to say that thoughts and prayers aren’t welcomed or shouldn’t be shared. According to Rabbi Jack Moline "prayer without action is just noise." In a world where mass shootings are so common that a video clip from 2015 is still relevant, it's clear that more than thoughts and prayers are needed. It's important to examine what you’re doing outside of offering thoughts and prayers on social media. In another several years, hopefully this video clip won’t be as relevant, but at this rate it’s hard to see it any differently.

Family

Two sisters ask their stepmom to adopt them with sweet memory book

"We were already calling her mom because it felt so natural."

Gabriella Ruvolo/TikTok

Gabriella and Julianna Ruvolo asked their stepmom to adopt them in a touching video.

Sisters Gabriella and Julianna Ruvolo know that they're extremely lucky. Their stepmom Becky Ruvolo has been there for them for most of their lives and it's clear that they're grateful to her for it. On May 9, Gabriella posted a video to TikTok to share the very special way the young women honored their stepmom for Mother's Day.

In the short clip, you can see Becky flanked by the two girls, flipping through a book. On the video are the words "After 12 years… we finally asked our step-mom to adopt us." As Becky goes through the pages, you can see her becoming increasingly more emotional before she gets to the last page. By then, all three of the women are crying.

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