Most of us spend our days with screens constantly tugging at our attention. If you’re old enough, you can probably remember spending hours finding shapes in clouds, or sitting with a sunset until the light shifted through every colour into night. Pursuits like this can feel pretty alien when we’re caught up in today’s entertainment platforms, but it’s exactly this type of slow-time which can help us regain focus, joy, relaxation, and ease.
If you’re having trouble staying focussed, one easy way to help with a digital detox is to slow time with nature observations.
That deep sense that something is wrong
That deep sense that something is wrong is more than the threat of extinction, war, and the chaos of a destabilising climate. It’s also caused by the fact that our screens have captured us, and may be depriving us of satisfying connections that allow us to be creative.
A “Tech Cleanse”, or digital detox, has become a new self-care ideal. There are many approaches, but most of us are not successful for long, which is why finding simple yet fulfilling alternatives is essential according to the sports academics at Tell Me More Golf.
Social media algorithms limit our complex reality to only two choices: affirm or condemn. It’s hard to resist this feedback loop, and “engagement” can easily tip over into “addiction”, making us feel bad about ourselves and others.
If you’re keen to restore clarity, and your relationship with the world, practices of observation can be very effective. A digital detox is all about escaping the screen’s manipulation and thinking indirectly, creatively and playfully about everything.
Here are three simple paths to help you refocus, and replace screen-time with slow-time observation. You can think of these practices as a “tech-cleanse.”
A gateway to slow-time can be as close as your tap. Water draws us in with sound, taste, temperature, and light. When you’re drinking a glass of water, filling a tub, or watering the garden, try to observe with all your senses.
Think about what the water is saying to you: is it singing, still and silent, or whispering? There are no right answers; the point is to simply observe.
It is said that Zen masters can taste the part of the stream from which their water is pulled. This might sound like a step too far, but you can have a go at practising this kind of observation by paying attention to the different taste of water stored in glass, metal or plastic containers.
If your home isn’t near a trickling stream you can observe water’s sounds by adding a water feature to the garden, or drawing a bath. Just spritzing water into air on a warm day can lead to creative observations.
Putting a bowl of water outside for a bird bath is another good option. A bird bath offers a range of experiences, from a still gazing pool that reflects the sky, to splashing birds, and sipping bees (be sure to add a stone or something the bees can climb up on in case they fall in).
Care for houseplants
Many of us have houseplants, but have you learned to interpret their signals? Whether they’re thirsty, hungry, starved of light, or happy, plants give off signals that we can appreciate with time and observation.
Caring for houseplants allows for nonverbal communication to grow out of daily observations, slowing us down in a way that lets us be present for the world around us.
Whether viewed at a distance or up close, plants are great partners for deep breathing exercises. Use them to anchor yourself to the present as you exhale what they breathe in, and inhale what they breathe out. And like observing clouds, you can let your eyes go soft and find shifting patterns in leaves. How many shades of green, yellow, blue, even red, can you see?
If you can’t keep houseplants alive, try keeping a Pothos (also called the money plant). It doesn’t even need soil; you can cut off a stem and grow it in water. If you use a clear glass vase or bottle, it’s easy to notice when the water is getting low and top it up. As long as it doesn’t get thirsty and sunburnt, Pothos will grow roots, more leaves, and longer stems. If the stems become too long, you can cut them off and put the ends in the vase to bulk out your plant.
Rosemary is useful in meditative practices through scent, smoke, texture, and by helping us appreciate our connection to the planet as a whole.
Plant some rosemary outdoors and it will create a more wildlife-friendly garden, helping you to connect with the creatures that share your space. As well as supporting your local wildlife, its stiff upright form can be treated like topiary, which is another great way to focus the mind on the present.
Rosemary is ideal for adding sensory nourishment to your food too; the leaves emit a luscious fragrance when crushed. Toss a few fresh leaves from your rosemary bush into the pan when sautéing potatoes, or use it to add flavour to roasted root veg and meats.
If you burn rosemary for incense, the smoke provides an opportunity to observe the secret life of air as it twists around us. There is a reason why incense is used to invoke meditative states throughout the world; following the movement of wisps of smoke can help with focus and calm the mind. The resinous nature of rosemary makes it quite flammable, so take care when burning and use non-flammable surfaces.
Do this next time you need a digital detox
We’re all struggling to resist the pull of screens on a daily basis. The next time you feel trapped by your devices, turn them off and choose to slow time by appreciating the moment. Interacting with water, a houseplant, or a fragrant bush like rosemary are all simple ways to practice mindfulness and build lasting, liberating relationships with the world around us.
What digital detox methods do you use to stay focused and manage screen time?