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Intentional Attention

I spent the last week of April in a cabin in the mountains of North Carolina. This stone cottage sat right upon the banks of Spring Creek, which in my opinion would have been more aptly named Spring River, given it’s width and swift current.

I went here intentionally to write, write some more in my book that is, and to be immersed in nature’s tunes, to spend much of it in silence and reflect on life thus far, having crossed over into a new, and yet another decade earlier this year…

The other thing I did with intention was to carve out much needed time to isolate from distractions, the big ones, that is, which for me are

  1. The News

( I’m historically a news junkie), though I never watch it on TV, and ever so rarely since the pandemic, do I even bother to listen to NPR when I’m driving, mostly because I can’t stand the opinionated, incessant inflection and emphasis news anchors and hosts have adopted on being entertainers instead of journalists, something apparently audiences have come to expect, or maybe conditioned to expect. And let’s face it, the people in charge who decide what’s newsworthy and will make it to airtime all seem to have degrees from Chicken Little University, where every moment is yet another disaster lurking right above our cerebral cortexes.

2. Social Media

3. Staying Off My Phone

To be honest, my JAM over the last several years, has been devouring the NY Times and Washington Post for a good couple of hours a day, and social media for probably that long too in a 24 hr. period.. And just for the record I don’t do TikTok, Twitter, and nearly never Instagram, despite the frustration it causes for the incredibly talented social media marketing person who takes care of my advertising for my business of yoga and bodywork. (This may lend you ideas about my relative age). So Facebook was my “go to”, but shunned it entirely for a week. And we do this as a way to imagine simply informing ourselves and sharing posts would somehow alter the decision making that goes on by the powers that be, whether lawmakers on Capitol Hill or the “friends” we’ve actually never met in person on Social Media.

Hey, I’m a body and movement guy. Besides teaching and practicing yoga and massage, I ride a bike, and walk my dog. But most recently, I am also a writer. As I said, I came to the mountains to write more in my book, and to make any progress with that daunting project, knew that I must leave my habits and significant others behind, including my partner; she freshly back from two weeks in the UK and Spain, and dog Frida, who is used to me doting on her way more than most dogs will ever experience.. We passed like ships in the night, she and I, tag- teaming the pup, with only the briefest stop at port for a couple of days before temporarily parting ways, amicably, again.

I wasn’t really sure how this would go staying away from outside influences of the mind that is,, as the last time I took a news and social media fast was about 10 years ago. But technology has changed a lot since then, especially the social media end of things, sneakily demanding, or rather insisting on much more of our attention. What I did learn quite suddenly upon arrival, after unpacking my car, setting up the kitchen, and finally kicking back in a zero gravity chair with the “creek” a mere few meters ahead of my toes, was the shift of my nervous system into a place that almost immediately had me breathing more deeply, (with way less effort mind you), taking in the visuals of trees, rocks, birds and terrain to further soothe me.

In the midst of all this I had discovered, thanks to my massage therapist Meg, a book by Cal Newport entitled “ Digital Minimalism”. It is because of her, that this became the inspiration for future yoga and breathing classes, and for a supporting theme for my upcoming yoga retreat I’m leading in Sicily this October, which I had already named “ Unpacking Your Busy”. In this retreat, I will offer us each day the recommendation that our tribe spend more and more time away from gadgetry and immersing instead in nature’s eye candy of beaches, orchards, healthy food, deep rest, walks, meditation, yoga, and Sicilian culture.

We don’t really know how much external stimuli has held us hostage until we remove ourselves from it. I learned lots of things, like how anxious scrolling through social media makes me ( and learned it’s actually linked as the source to many people’s supreme unhappiness). It makes me nervous and inattentive in equal measure. Causes a sense of lack, of “ I should be doing more”! Let’s face it. We put our best self forward on Facebook, especially when it’s a selfie, flaunting pictures from your perfect life in Costa Rica, Bali, Thailand, and Morocco. The meal I had with the 200 dollar bottle of wine, and the brimming faces with arms all around me; me with my perfect friends.

But all that comes with a price, of a sense of lack, of one ups-man-ship, and the nagging urge to continue the addictive dopamine surges, So denying myself these floods of virtual pleasures was indeed a blessing, that took so little time to not only appreciate, but to yearn for. So I put myself to the task of writing my book again, after months of not, of taking walks in the mountains, of having my meal prep be a meditation, as much as playing my guitar, and hunting for stones along the water’s edge. The absence of man-made sounds and btw, most of them, especially the most offensive ones are made by men, ( not women, mind you). You realize too how addictive your phone has become, your YouTube channel, your thirst for yet more data to further clog your already overwhelmed brain. I was sincerely amazed at how quickly my nervous system calmed down, how much that softened the tenseness in my shoulders and upper back, and how my jaw suddenly unhinged… And I was quite surprised first by how much I didn’t miss it, and how peaceful I felt without it.

And so, I did a bit of a role reversal, which seemed almost immediate. I became if not addicted, at least enthralled by leaving technology alone for the week. What I discovered was that my brain got to relax, reset, and renew. I was happy thinking random , even at times boring thoughts, as opposed to having my mind feel like a pin ball, with my phone and laptop on the internet like the flippers of that same machine, batting me around aimlessly, without connection, flow, or progress toward much of anything. This would, for the week of April 23-29, be my yoga.

The story has more good news too! I have come home carrying this habit, this rhythm. Now I am not going all day, mind you, without gadgetry; my career and family/friends can’t operate quite that way. But what i have done is make phones and such off limits for at least the first hour of my day, and this morning for instance, it was three hours before I looked at any device, and that was on a work day. I am proud of that! I feel much calmer, less competitive, more focused, and happy. I notice that I “notice” more, am more likely to look up at the sky, or see the detail in a tree or garden plant, to gaze into my dog Frida’s sweet brown eyes, and enjoy the length of time we both linger there. I am also much more proprioceptively and interceptively aware of my body, in space around me, in enhanced space within me. And, I am sleeping better… !

So my advice to you dear readers is this: Try leaving your phone away from you hands for the first hour of your morning, turn in face town and silence it. Turn off many of those needless notifications! Grab a beverage, sit with your family, or just stare out the window at a tree, or sit with your breath and bust a few spontaneous yoga moves your body craves. If that works, take a jaunt to the closest grocery store or gas station without your phone. And despite what Apple, Google, or Samsung might wish you to believe, you won’t die with out it, and you will be fine, and its quite unlikely that you’ll be less safe without it. It’s incredibly liberating! But if that’s just too much for now, just leave the phone in the boot (trunk or glove box) and then you’ll know it’s there just is case.

And please do report back. I think you’ll like the results!

Jeffrey Shoaf,

Certified Yoga Therapist, Yoga Educator, Bodyworker,

& Student of Human Nature

Yoga Therapy Charlotte

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