As I journal and reflect on the Medicine Walk that I went on last Monday, I am reminded of the importance of some digital tools that I make use of to help prevent me from getting caught up in the digital world. I thought that I would share them here with you should you also want to explore moments of mindful stepping back while engaging in your digital life.
Before I go any further, I just want to mention a couple of things:
- First I want to say that I receive nothing for mentioning the applications that I speak of here. They are simply tools that I have found online and that have been of great help to me.
- Second, and this is quite important, these apps will have no effect if you do not start them up in the first place. Now that might sound quite obvious, but the mind is tricky and sometimes forgetful, and you can always convince yourself that you do not need to take any breaks this time. So until you get into a habit of using them, find someway to remind yourself. For example, on a Mac you can set applications to start when the computer starts up.
Thich Naht Hanh
The Zen Master Thich Naht Hanh speaks of the Bell of Mindfulness. When the bell sounds it brings us back to the present moment. We stop what we are doing, take three conscious breaths, and then return to our activity. The bell can be a purposely sounded gong. At talk and retreats given by Thay, as he is affectionately known, a Bell of Mindfulness is sounded at regular intervals even if Thay is talking. The Bell can also be the brake lights of the car in front of you, the telephone ringing or a dog barking. It can be whatever stops you in that moment.
In Thich Naht Hanh’s tradition he makes use of gathas, short poems, to help us with our mindfulness practice. One that I find particularly helpful when I pause and take three breaths is this one,
Breathing in I calm my body,
Breathing out I smile.
Breathing in I calm my body,
Breathing out I smile.
Breathing in the present moment,
I know that it is a wonderful moment.
or a shorter one,
In - I know that I am breathing in.
Out - I know that I am breathing out.
Some enterprising software writers have created applications that in their own way create a Bell of Mindfulness, allowing you to stop your digital activity, breathe, stretch and then return to your work. The purpose behind some of these apps is to prevent physical injury such as hunch shoulders, but they can also be used as your own personal Bell.
I make use of the Apple platform for both my desktop and mobile digital life, but hopefully for those who are interested in using these tools but are not Apple users, these applicationss will give you a starting point for research into similar apps for your platform. A couple of these apps, are actually platform independent and make use of web browsers. Some are free, and some cost a few dollars.
- Time Out Free - This was the first application of this type that I ever used. There are many variables that you can set within the application, but in essence after a predefined period of time the app will disable the keyboard, for a period of time of your choosing. You can then just breathe, stretch, take a walk, or go and make a cup of tea. I have always said that the completion of my Masters paper was in part because of this app. Productivity doesn’t just come from just keeping going.
- Pauses - This application is very similar to Time Out Free. A simpler version with a few less options, but no less effective.
- Mindful Mynah - My current go to application for taking a break is very simple in its operation. At a predetermined interval the application will sound a tone. There are a selection of sounds so that you can choose one conducive for you. That is it. No disabled keyboards, just a tone.
- Freedom - This app does not disable the keyboard…it disables the internet! You set how long that you wish to be offline and then once you have pressed the start button the only way to re-enable the internet before your time is up is to restart your computer. Great for those writing projects. Available on PCs.
- Anti-Social - Written by the same company that produced Freedom, Anti-Social will disable access to your social media feeds only, or individual websites that you choose. No more continual checking to see how many ‘Likes’ you have received for your last post when you should be concentrating on something else.
- Mindful Mynah - This is an iPhone version of the Mac app of the same name mentioned above. Useful if you just want a mindfulness bell at hand while working on non-digital projects.
- Calm Button - By the same author as Mindful Mynah, this app bills itself as “Anxiety Relief • Breath Trainer.” I find it very effective for slowing you down, quieting the mind and bringing you back to now. Spend as long as you need with it.
- Samsara - Although this is not mindfulness bell but a meditation timer, I have included it here as it is a timer that I use and like because of it’s simplicity. It will also work when the iPhone is in airplane mode and sounds are turned off, allowing no intrusion from other apps or someone calling you.
- Bell of Mindfulness - This extension is available for Chrome based browsers such as Google Chrome, and as such it is independent of the platform, Mac or PC, that it is run on.
We are all of different dispositions. What works for me might not work for you. However, if you are interested in exploring having access to a Bell of Mindfulness in your digital life and these apps don’t quite fit, explore and test out others. Google and other search engines are of course one place to start your search. For those in the Apple world, try MacUpdate or the Mac App Store as well.
If you are using a digital Bell of Mindfulness, what application are you using?
Update - March 22, 2019
I am currently using Rest Time on my MacBook Air, my main computer, to manage my work and rest time. I find it simple, unobtrusive and with the features that I need. There is a two week free trial. Give it a spin.