To Call Or Not To Call

Yesterday I got rid of my cell phone.

Fear and dread quickly followed.

An interesting emotional upheaval considering I had just come back a few days earlier from a seven day silent meditation retreat. Up on the mountain I dedicated myself to sitting, walking, mindfully eating and being all in a deep commitment to my Buddhist practice. For eight to ten hours a day I followed my breath into a profound awareness of the thoughts that arose. Cravings, aversions, stories from my past repeated themselves in a viral loop of unnerving revelations. I blessed the food I ate recognizing it was mere elements of earth, air, fire and water devoid of self just as the rocks, the trees, the sky and I were devoid of self as well. I sent loving kindness to everyone I could think of and felt the sensation of abiding tranquility permeate my cells. What started as a challenging week of inattention and frustration ended in an intense embrace with the lightness of being in this body without the heavy lure of wants and needs. For a brief and translucent time I was at peace.

In the quiet seclusion of the monastery I thought about the ways I could expand my meditation time at home. I began to look at my patterns and how I spent my days. It wasn’t hard to see my time on the internet was the big elephant in the room jumping up and down in a hot pink tutu. I saw how each morning started with feeding the cats, making tea, turning on the computer and then losing myself in the onslaught of emails, balancing my cheque book and paying bills, perusing Facebook postings and checking out that cool new YouTube video everyone seemed to be sharing. Before I knew it the crevice of time I had allotted to meditation had been squandered in one or more of Dante’s realms of hell.

Examining how I could best change my electronic ways I decided first of all not to turn on The Machine before I go to work. The second most obvious piece of the quagmire to relinquish was my cell phone. I have a Blackberry that has proven to be quite handy while sitting in airports or riding ferries and catching up on emails, yet our day-to-day relationship is a bit co-dependent. I turn it on and check it while sipping my morning tea even though the same emails are just a few feet away on my computer. I glance at it at least three times while riding the bus to and from work and I gaze upon its countenance on my lunch hour as well. What started as amiable rapport had deteriorated into a sad obsession.

Deciding to give up my handheld companion while basking in the glow of nibbana turned out to be quite different from the reality of pulling the plug once I returned home. I entered the stages of grief. I’d done the denial circuit for quite awhile before I went on retreat. Back in the city I moved on to bargaining. Perhaps I could find a way to keep the calls coming, just in case, and drop the internet. I looked into plans with other companies only to discover I would have to get a new phone. Not wanting to add to the mountain of dejected mobile devices littering the planet, that didn’t seem like a viable option. Why a new phone? I learned that my dear Blackberry was “locked”, meaning proprietary to my cell phone provider, and couldn’t be transferred to another company. And all this time I thought we had a special connection.

Depression began to set in. My cell provider wouldn’t let me drop the data plan and revert to just a calling plan. Anger pulled up a chair. Sitting on hold as the second customer service representative transferred me to the Loyalty Department (translation: she’s about to leave us, make her stay) I settled into acceptance. When the young woman came back on the line trying to convince me not to end my long standing relationship with her company I voiced my firm decision to cancel my mobile phone.

As I hung up from the call I checked in with my body. The buoyant ease I had been nurturing the last few days had dissolved into a pool of fear and anxiety. I closed my eyes and followed the feelings, searching out their hiding places and sitting down next to them. With each breath I was able to peel off the layers of illusion and deception that were telling me a cell phone was important, necessary, something I couldn’t live with or without. Slowly the lightness returned and with it the sense of centred emptiness that filled the recesses of my soul.

From a Buddhist prospective the origin of suffering is our attachment to the transient things in life. It’s not just the shiny objects beckoning to us from every store window, every billboard and every magazine, but it’s also desire, passion, the pursuit of wealth and prestige, the perfect job, the perfect mate, the perfect cell phone plan. It’s about craving and clinging to the temporary. And it’s all temporary.

Giving up my cell phone isn’t the end of the world, yet in some ways it could be the beginning. It opens up more space in my day to be in the moment. To experience the complex beauty of my breath, to offer gratitude for the clouds stirring in the sky, to give thanks for the smile of a child passing by on a school bus or to hold in reverence the precious moments looking into the eyes of a friend.

As Leonard Cohen so eloquently states, “There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” The work is in finding the fracture in our lives that’s calling to be cracked open. That’s where presence begins and it only gets brighter from there.

Photo Credits

Sunrise with Tree – Flickr Creative Commons by h.koppdelaney

Conceptual images about time – Microsoft Office Download

Mantle Meditation Flickr Creative Commons by moriza

Lyrics from “Anthem” by Leonard Cohen.



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  1. avatar says

    As someone who couldn’t live without her mobile–no really, it is my ‘work’–I really loved this. Sometimes when I am out walking without my phone, I feel an ease, a sense of being back in my body and unhinged from all ‘that’ attachment. Thanks for this Tess, beautiful writing as ever.

    • avatar says

      Hi Mags,

      Yep, going cell-less certainly won’t work for everyone, but for me it was like a third arm, and my other two are busy enough already.

      Thanks for your kindness, as always.

  2. avatarDJ says

    “And all this time I thought we had a special connection.”

    Isn’t that always the case. It was the big man himself who said “You will be the only person in your life that will never leave you, and that you will never leave. For that, they deserve your love and attention.”

    I think he also said something about always reading your cell phone plan carefully before you sign on the dotted line, but I think that part got lost in translation.

    • avatar says

      Thanks DJ. Yes, I am with me for the entire ride of life. I’m glad we’ve made friends along the way.

      At least now I don’t have to share a calling plan. 😉



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