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One Man's (Involuntary) Introduction to Mindfulness

March 1, 2013 | Tim Kelly

Every morning when I wake up I take a few minutes to identify three goals for my day.  Then I put a rubber band around my wrist as a reminder of them. At the end of the day, if I have achieved my goals, I add the rubber band to my expanding rubber band ball.

Last Friday ended a productive workweek filled with wins and an expanding rubber band ball. On Friday evening, I checked my briefcase and hung my coat on a restaurant wall to settle down for a Mexican dinner with friends. When we were ready to leave, I grabbed my briefcase, and scrambled inside my coat pocket to check my email. No phone.  It wasn't in my coat.  Where could it be? The table? Nope. The floor? No. My pants pockets? I checked three times. "Quick," I yelled to my friend, "call it, it has to be here." It wasn't. Someone had stolen my phone. 

I was just thinking how vulnerable I would be without my communication lifeline, weekend to-do lists, time-saving tools, articles that I had saved to read—the list (on my phone) goes on and on—then I remembered I also had no Internet at my apartment. It had been shut off earlier in the week when the credit card on my cable account expired. The notification emails from the cable company apparently were some of the 4,000 unread messages in my inbox. 

Cue 26-year-old metropolitan male meltdown in New York City.

When I got home I was exhausted. I decided to de-arm my rubber band, add it to my rubber band ball, and disconnect until I had to reconnect with a phone on Monday.

I woke up late on Saturday and missed the spin class I had signed up for 26 hours in advance using one of my phone apps. The weekend papers didn't download onto my iPad without Internet service, so I grabbed them along with a coffee at the store on the corner. I read for hours on a park bench overlooking one of the snow-covered Central Park lawns—a view that would have been a "no filter" Instagram shot, for sure.

After reading the papers, I picked up my laundry and went back to my apartment.  I don't own a TV (buying one has been on one of my phone task lists for three years) and without Pandora, I decided to clean my apartment to songs on CDs that I had discovered over the holidays in my childhood bedroom. They were incredible tunes, the type that motivate you to sing loudly and badly, and break into an occasional dance with a ski cap and a "decorative" orange apron. 

The allure of recouping some time and space to think, on my own and without interruptions, was suddenly attractive. I spent my two disconnected days kicking around coffee shops, reading, exercising, and eating at new restaurants, my thinking not punctuated by "breaking news" alerts or Facebook status updates. I walked around not in conversation on the phone. I ate at new restaurants without checking online reviews. There were many unexpected firsts during my post-meltdown personal days and it was terrific.

At this point, I want to extend a big thank you to the person who stole my phone on Friday night. You're a dirtbag, 100 percent, but by having my smartphone in your hand, you kept it from mine. That, in turn, forced me to recoup some mindfulness and reorient myself before another week's worth of rubber band goals.

The return on investing in a dose of mindfulness is invaluable. My mindful weekend helped me recapture a motivating vision of my future—a context my daily goals have been lacking in recent months. My two post-meltdown days taught me that there's a time and a place for technology-assisted activities, and a time to be mindful. 

Now, with all this said, I'd be remiss not to report that by Monday I was anxiously, not mindfully, waiting to receive my new phone. But when the workweek comes to a close and I celebrate over dinner (with my phone in a more secure place), my expectations for the weekend will be refocused to include time and space to think, recharge, and reposition myself—and, of course, to pay that overdue cable bill.

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