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I Abandoned My Phone for a Week and This is What Happened

I was not aware of the power modern communication had over my life until I took a short break from the internet.

Image courtesy of Gratisography 

Deep down my throat, I felt a strange thirst. It wasn’t for water… but for something else. Something warm, thick and salty. I soon lost my appetite, my brain wandered and I lost track of time.

Oh, my, wait! I thought we were talking about the day I turned into a vampire—or daydreamed about it.

I meant to tell you about the day I ditched my phone, unplugged, quit checking my email and almost shut the whole world out. Well, it wasn’t very different though—at first.

After almost 3 years of working in the Mines of Moria—actually worse, in Damascus, I finally admitted that I needed a serious break—a frowning one with bushy eyebrows. I went to the very recently liberated Damascene countryside and spent a week in a mountain blessed with minimum access to any kind of internet connection. I desperately needed to be left in peace.

Truth be told, I was itching to check my WhatsApp, social media accounts and email inbox, but the itch soon disappeared and I wished my relationship with my phone, which is more of a Catholic marriage, would end forever, and here is why:

1) I was able to connect with my inner self and remember who I am.

I actually got introduced to myself all over again. It was as if I were suffering from amnesia for a while, but I finally banged my head against a brick wall and a flood of memories gushed through my brain.

A couple of months ago, the internet died in Damascus for half a day and my sister joked about it saying, “Feels like I’m meeting you guys for the very first time, and I must say we’re one amusing family.”

It felt as if I were meeting myself for the very first time. I was again that same 15-year old book worm who wanted nothing from this world but to lock herself in her room, perform Shakespeare’s plays in front of a mirror and write fantasy novels at 2 past midnight.

According to Sherrie Bourg Carter, psychologist and author of High Octane Women: How Superachievers Can Avoid Burnout, “solitude gives you an opportunity to discover yourself and find your own voice, provides time for you to think deeply, helps you work through problems more effectively and allows you to reboot your brain and unwind”.

Unless you incorporate alone time into your daily schedule, all the noise created by traditional and social media as well as people in real life, will affect your decisions without you knowing it. Have you ever taken a rebound job but convinced yourself it was fully your choice, when deep down all you wished was to get back at your previous employer who said no one else would hire you? Or maybe at some point, you believed you needed to pursue an MBA even though your passion was in a completely different direction.

Even when they know their input is not welcome, people will keep telling you who you are and labelling you however they desire, and although you don’t believe them, they will somehow scar your subconscious mind if you don’t protect it.

You need that alone time to clear your mind and build immunity against this kind of scarring, and these two contribute to better decision-making.

2) Sleep became a fulfilling bliss.

Almost a year ago, my mom told me that the National Sleep Foundation recommended turning off all devices an hour before bedtime, and I said, “Who in hell can do this?”

A couple of months ago, I came across a 2014 study titled “Evening use of light-emitting eReaders negatively affects sleep, circadian timing, and next-morning alertness”, which concluded that the use of light-emitting electronic devices for reading, communication and entertainment before bedtime “prolongs the time it takes to fall asleep, delays the circadian clock, suppresses levels of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, reduces the amount and delays the timing of REM sleep and reduces alertness the following morning.”

I decided against changing that life-draining habit. Not only that, but every time I came across an article about how healthy it is to dismiss your phone before bedtime, I chose not to click the link but to scroll down hoping to find what encouraged bad practices—maybe an article that suggests spending the night with your eyes sucked by your phone’s screen will make you smarter, in vain.

When I was finally compelled to stay away from my nasty phone, I immediately fell asleep and woke up early the next morning, ever so invigorated! I actually started to wake up before my alarm went off!

3) I finally learned what mattered most.

For almost a year, the light at the end of the tunnel disappeared. I found myself trapped in two ill thoughts: my dreams of making a difference in this world were but immature rubbish, and my attempts to do so were a total fiasco. I could not see the difference I was making because I was focused on a different definition of it. One that is drastic and instant.

In her book, You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life, Jen Sincero says that “what you focus on becomes your reality.” And she suggested trying the following exercise:

Look around wherever you are and count the number of red things you see. Now stop, look at this article without moving your eyes away from it and remember the yellow things round you. You most likely cannot remember many yellow things because you were busy looking for red.

You may not have discovered a cure for Alzheimer’s, you may know nothing about rocket science, you’re not the CEO of a multinational corporation and you may never be able to invent a machine which turns caca into cake. However, you did inspire your neighbor to go to college, you helped your friend with a job application, encouraged your relative to start her own baking business, your spouse to give his mother a call, your coworker to take a course in a foreign language and your friend to wear her best smile and go on a date with the man on whom she has a crush.

This is change.

Focus on the change you’re capable of making today as well as that you wish to make on the long run.

As long as you positively impact the lives of the people you come across and influence even those whom you do not personally know, you are making a difference, and once you know it, you’ll feel happy and fulfilled.

Give a compliment to a coworker who’s wearing a nice shirt today, tell your classmate you liked the essay they’d submitted, smile genuinely at the old man sweeping the street, do your job with passion, give a call to a coworker who’s on leave and tell them office isn’t the same without them, leave a generous tip at the café, give away all the clothes you’re not wearing, help your sibling study for an exam, finish the task you’ve been assigned well, tell someone who thinks she can’t that she actually can and thank the shopkeeper before you step out of the boutique.

To have left one person feeling better today… is to have succeeded.

4) I let go of anger, guilt and regret, and fear no longer lingered in every corner.

As I listened to the daily orchestra of cows, hens, roosters, birds, goats, sheep, dogs and cats, I realized life was too good to be wasted on anger, heartache and resentment.

Some positivity fanatics are bullies who find pleasure in shaming others for embracing their negative emotions, and this isn’t what I’m about to do. Sadness, anger, fear, pain and heartache are all vital to psychological well-being.

A recent University of Toronto study by Brett Ford, Phoebe Lam and Oliver John concluded that while individuals who chose to ignore or avoid negative emotions after bad experiences were very likely to suffer symptoms of mood disorders like depression or anxiety, those who embraced their negative feelings in response to bad situations had better psychological well-being.

However, allowing those feelings to stick around for too long and holding on to them is tremendously bad for both, psychological and physical health. Buddhaghosa wrote in The Path of Purification, “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”

A friend once said to me, “When someone does you wrong and hurts you, the best revenge ever is to live well, be happy and forget about them.”

Karma does not forget and when it strikes, it strikes really hard, so why burden your soul with anger? Why play in your head the same scenes that hurt you over and over again?

You’ve taken a bad decision in the past—which may not have been bad after all, but it is now in the past while you live in the present, so why ruminate over it?

I know this may sound cliché, but if your heart were broken once, twice or even thrice, don’t be afraid to fall in love again. If your last workplace experience was toxic, move to the next while absolutely positive it is going to be the best experience ever. If a friend stabbed you in the back, look for new friends and trust them.

Don’t be afraid of negative emotions because they are meant to pass. Nothing stays the way it is forever. Feel hurt if you must, but move on afterward. Try again and enjoy the trip. Be ready for more pain and don’t hide from it—it’s an inevitable part of life, and always remember that a smooth sea never made a skillful sailor.

I released all the anger into the mountains and forgave everyone. I deserve peace. 

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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