The debris of glass and electronics was a marked contrast amidst the natural landscape of the stone and grass where the ruined phone lay.
I had dropped and shattered my high-tech fancy smartphone while trying to escape the house and be outside on week 3 of COVID-related quarantine.
That phone was my lifeline at this point. It connected me to work, friends, information, distraction, and even mindfulness. You see, I, like so many others, had a myriad of meditation and mindfulness apps on the phone to help me find peace amid all the chaos. I had been using Headspace for about 2.5 years at this point, that was my nightly go-to meditation practice. I had expanded to purchased meditations and mindfulness podcasts in the other hours, but it was all on my phone. I believed that meditating without prompts just didn’t “work” for me. Well, with a simple slip, I was about to test that belief.
Feeling the Phantom Phone Limb
First, I had to acknowledge the emotions brought up by losing my phone. We had other phones in the house. I wasn’t out of touch. But it was such a part of my day, from text messages to social media to setting time sprints for work, it felt like losing a vital organ.
I thought I would be okay. Running to the store to get a new one wasn’t an option. Not today, not in the middle of this social distancing. “I can just get another.” In the best of time, what a privilege that thought was!
As the day went on, I managed. I leaned into the discomfort. I thought of how well I was coping. Until night fell. How would I meditate? I did the best I could and fell asleep, but woke up in the wee hours of the morning to a text message noise. In a silent room, where the only phone was the smashed one I had kept close. I knew it wasn’t rational. And I knew it was part of a larger problem.
That phone had replaced some very in-person things for me. Like a missing phantom limb, I couldn’t imagine it not being there. While I could justify that behavior in the time of quarantine, I knew this had been going on for a long time. My mind was racing, reeling against itself. I could feel anxiety pressing in on all sides from the stillness of my room. My heart raced. I forced myself to swallow back the fear and bite back the harsh criticism of my inner voice. I stopped. And I started to breathe.
How Breath Brought Me Back
I couldn’t focus using the counting breath method, I was still in fight or flight response. So I started to box breathe. I modified it to an in count of 5, hold for 5, out for 7, hold for 5, and repeat. There are various methods with different counts, but I’ve found this one works for me. And it worked at this moment.
I could feel my central nervous system starting to slow down. Then, I was able to “hear” Andy (my favorite Headspace voice) in my mind: Scan your body, Follow your breath. And I did. I couldn’t tell you for how long, my phone is also my clock, but I was meditating on my own.
When I woke up the next morning, late (the alarms are on the phone), I was already in a heightened state. But I recognized it as such as I reached for that electronic appendage instinctively. I was able to pause with that realization and focus on breathing. Not a full meditation, but just a few deep breaths.
I am writing this still without a phone, but grateful for the opportunity to experience this lesson at this moment in history. A lifelong sufferer of anxiety, my phone had been crucial in giving me mediation skills and put a consistent practice in place I couldn’t get on my own. I really do recommend all of the apps and programs available if you are struggling now, or at any time. (Calm is a great alternative to the Headspace app mentioned here, my small data set is split pretty 50–50 between the two.)
If you find yourself at a plateau in your mindfulness practice, or if life hands you a broken phone, maybe the lesson is to embrace it. It was for me. I hope to continue to expand that practice, even after the new phone comes in.
Photo by Ali Abdul Rahman on Unsplash