Words by Ellen Mqueen. Image by Erich Vogel
You realise how easy it is for the phone to be a distraction from your emotions.
A distraction from the things we don’t want to see.
And from the things we do.
For the four days leading up to Christmas I was on a boat in the Mergui Islands where this distraction wasn’t an option. Not for lack of trying. We purchased Burmese SIM cards and maxed them with 4G. Between the three of us we had four laptops three phones and an iPad.
Deemed null once we left mainland Kawthaung.
Rendered useless in the midst of the 800 islands that make up the region.
About two months before on a typical Sunday morning in Paris I’d realised how much I use the phone, the 4G, the constant influx of information and images to distract myself from what was “really” going on. In a fit of sadness I scrolled through Facebook. I felt sad, and did not want to face it, so entered instead into a virtual world of judging and comparing and escaping.
Marianne Williamson, in an interview with Kieth Callahan in conversation about her book Tears to Triumph, discusses “a lot of situations in our lives where we sabotage ourselves by undercutting our ability to cry as many tears as we really have.” I don’t know why it connected for me that particular morning but it did, and I turned off the phone and I cried the tears I had to cry and felt better than I ever could by diverting my attention to Instagram.
I’m not by any means condemning Internet usage, and think we’re fortunate to live in a world where we have access to such a plethora of information. But there is, I think, a fine line between escape and education.
On the boat in the Mergui Islands for four days without Internet, arguably a type of escape in itself, I saw things that were spectacular and things that I could’ve done without.
Monkeys trickling from the dense jungle onto the white sand to fish for breakfast in the tiny lapping waves of turquoise waters. Massive pink jellyfish bobbing underneath my snorkelling mask and above living coloured coral. The sunset, the whole thing, the way it changes shade of gold and pink and bruised purple every minute, the way it happens forever but also all at once over a skyline without any human interference.
Plastic bags bobbing past the boat.
Pain, personal, emotional, mental, suddenly demanding to be faced, suddenly without any distraction.
Eight other guests and five crew members and no way to “make a call.”
Forced to interact.
Forced to be present.
What an absolute blessing.
The way time slows so significantly when you have to just be.
The way your brain has space and time to absorb, to reflect, to experience.
I remember once being assigned in a creative writing class the task to shut off my phone for twenty-for hours, put it in a drawer. I remember the professor of this class explaining how we can imagine our Self to be like a little shadow, something that will be with us every moment of every day for the duration of the whole life. A little shadow, therefore, to be treated with kindness, with love, not to be ignored.
And how easy it is to ignore our Self when the phone is always providing 4G and an influx of information and images.
How difficult to just be.
It is easy to just be for the four days leading up to Christmas on a boat with no 4G in the Mergui Islands.
The trick is managing this at home.
The trick is putting the phone in a drawer.
It is my resolution this year to face myself. Stop scrolling. Cry the tears I have to cry and see the things that are spectacular happening right in front of me.
And maybe the things that are not so spectacular.
We’ll see how it goes.
Ellen is an American writer and yoga instructor currently living in Paris. In 2015 she graduated from New York University with a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing, and since has had the opportunity to pursue her passion for traveling. She hopes to continue teaching yoga to the local and ex-pat community of Paris, and you can stay updated on her class schedule at mcqueenyoga.com or follow her on Instagram @mcqueenyoga.