[frantically preparing for] the first day of school

a few days ago i sent out a reminder to stop and breathe and be present as our country headed into the last three day weekend of the summer. my message today is similar. if you are a parent (or grandparent, aunt, uncle, etc), a student, a teacher, or a person who knows anyone who fits into one of those categories...read on.

school starts for many this week. this means that there are thousands of people rushing to gather school supplies, find the perfect first day outfit, put the finishing touches on lesson plans or classrooms, and, generally, look toward kicking off a “whole new year.” 

for some this is a time of immense relief. tomorrow can’t come soon enough. i am exhausted of summer and the lack of routine. it’s about time for some me time. i can’t wait to meet my students/teacher. fall is the best.

for others this is a time of immense worry and fear. how will we get out the door in the morning? how will i make lunches for a year? what if my child cries when i leave her at school? what if my child cheers when i leave him at school (indicating he’s so relieved to be done with me from the summer months)? what if my child’s teacher hates me? what if my teacher hates me? what if my students hate me? what if my classmates hate me? what if i can’t handle the challenges of the school year? how will i ever manage all that fall has to hand me?

for everyone facing into the changes that school brings, this is a time to stop and breathe. just as before, i’ll give you some space here to do so. 

seriously. take some space to sit down, feel the ground under you, and just breathe.

from this place of grounded stillness ask yourself what is important right now. not, what am i supposed to do right now? instead, what is truly important right now?  again, here’s some space to do so.  what is important right now?

without taking time to really listen to your self you might be addressing all the wrong tasks today. your classroom might seem “perfect” with that one final finishing touch that you feel tempted to spend the whole day on but the exhaustion of doing so may leave you emotionally unprepared to greet your students with your full and rested self. your first day of school breakfast and packed lunches may be worthy of gracing the cover of “world’s best parent” magazine and yet the time you’d spend creating them may steal you away from the important work of cuddling up in the way your child needs you to before heading off for a whole new year. of perhaps the exact opposite is true and that classroom “pop” and the traditional amazing breakfast might be the very things that will give you and your students/child life.

the point is, all the racing and rushing and feeling and cultural frenetic-ness can pull us off track, redirecting us without our even realizing it. and we can stop it. when we do so, we offer ourselves the opportunity to live life with greater intention and with attention to what really matters to us personally (and our children and students and teachers). the culture is happy to provide us with what it believes is important but do we really stop and determine, for our unique selves and the unique selves of those we share space with, what is important to us as we begin a new school year?

if you’ve known me for more than five minutes you know i am a huge believer that IT IS EASIER TO ESTABLISH HEALTHY NORMS THAN TO BREAK BAD HABITS. 

norms provide us with structure and a spotting point of sorts. without sitting down on the ground, breathing deep, and attending to what is important to us personally we may never know which norms we want to choose to live by as we begin a new school year. when i finally realized that i didn’t really care how my kids looked when they went off to school but that i cared immensely that they hop out of the car feeling loved by a mom who believed in them, it helped me establish school morning norms that we thrived within. i stopped sending them back to their rooms to find clothes that matched (pure habit) and simply saw past the clothes to the inside of who they were (new norm) leaving us with extra time for morning connection. 

there are a million ways of living by habit and very few of living intentionally. this lesser taken path involves a lot of sitting, breathing, and taking a minute or two (seriously, it’s all it takes) to make conscious choices about how and what you attend to. it feels odd, when there are a million things to tend to, to drop to the floor and breathe but it might just save your day and the days of those around you. 

so, with that all said, breathe in and then breathe out. ask yourself,

what’s important now?

what does my habitual self feel tempted to tend to?

if i were intentional about what i need and what those around me genuinely need, how might i spend this moment?

what do i need to let go of in order to be more fully present to myself and others right now?

and, most importantly, how can i return to and live from this grounded place more consistently as the chaos that is september ensues?

just as “only you can prevent forest fires,” only you can set the tone for your day. in so doing you set the tone for the days of others and for the cumulative days of the year. this is best done sitting on the floor, breathing in and out, and finding your self.


in frantic preparation for labor day weekend

today hundreds of thousands of americans will hop into their cars (or onto busses, trains, or planes) to head to destinations where they will celebrate the last few days of our national three month “summer vacation.” right now, in fact, many folks are frantically packing, trying to get out the door, making sure they have everything they need to make the weekend perfect. very likely the more frantic they feel the more stressful everything is becoming. they’ve gotta go, gotta go, gotta go....

a few weeks ago i was honored to share a week with high school students at twin rocks friends camp. one morning i decided to begin our time together by having us all take a few deep breaths together. the sound and feeling of 300 plus souls packed together in a room inhaling and exhaling deeply was stunning. i really mean that. it was captivating. it was as if everything slowed down and we all came together. everything. slowed. down. when we opened our eyes after the last exhale the room felt unified and calm and “together.”

i have an idea...let’s all take a few deep breaths. seriously. right now. i know you’re in a hurry. i know there’s lots to do. i promise, however, you have time. it’ll only take one minute. breathe in then breathe out. i’ll give you some space to do so...

everything you need for a time away/a good break/a needed vacation/a time of family connection/a weekend of rest is within you. 

let me say that again.

everything you need is within you. it’s already packed. you can rest and relax and begin the vacation now. you can begin it in the car when you’re stuck in terrible labor day traffic, you can begin it at home as you are scrambling to find that one last perfect item to bring along, you can begin it in the store as you’re gathering supplies three hours later than you’d hoped to do so. you can begin RIGHT NOW. the “perfect time” has very little to do with the space where time is spent and everything to do with the internal world of the person spending it.

the goals for taking breaks, vacations, and getting away may be many but at root i think most of us want to do one thing: LIVE DIFFERENTLY FOR A LITTLE WHILE. this may mean either connecting with others more or in more intentional ways. it might look like becoming a bit more contemplative and turning the focus inward. it might mean playing games, going for long walks, paying attention to the taste and texture of what you eat, see, or hear. or it might mean napping. a lot. without guilt. whatever the goal, however, YOU ARE YOUR ONLY TOOL TO MAKE IT HAPPEN.

so why not take a breath? slow down even for a moment. feel the earth under your feet and the air around your body. take another breath and get settled and still. notice the people around you or your own beating heart and connect to them or it. the hardest place to arrive at is not the beach or the city or grandma’s house...it is to yourself and yet only from this centered place can you have the most deeply meaningful experiences.

where ever you are headed today...take your self with you. see if you can vacation (or stay home) from there rather than focusing on the external destination/activity/outcome. i promise, if you do, that the rewards will be many. 

with that...take another breath and move forward from there (perhaps a bit more slowly than you were moving before). notice. keep breathing. with intention. keep breathing...


i took the als ice bucket challenge...will YOU?

i am writing today sopping wet, freezing cold, and grinning. these are good things.

i had really hoped to escape the whole als ice bucket challenge. don’t get me wrong, i LOVE supporting important causes and the people who benefit from and give their vocational lives to them. i LIVE to promote health and healing. i was put on this earth to find love/Love and pass it on. given all this you’d think i had my camera tripodded and ready to film myself pouring water over my head once i’d received the challenge. instead, i cringed. 

in the weeks wherein the challenge has gone viral i have wrestled with it. i read about people’s frustration with the waste of water and watched as some people seemed to me to fake intensity about a cause when all they really wanted was to have people watch their “awesome” video. just about every time i got totally frustrated, however, i would see another video of someone who i know was as earnest as can be donating money and getting wet and encouraging others to do the same. sometimes they added a wrinkle and drew attention to additional causes they cared about. this is the very thing that kricket, who challenged me, did. i had to admit, it was a pretty genius movement as cultural movements go. 

i know people who have lost loved ones to the absolutely awful illness that is als. i have a dear colleague who devotes much of his practice to serving this community. i have missed deadlines to support his fund raising als bike ride because i just plain forgot so i’m glad that others are giving in my absence. i am thrilled that awareness is being raised and funds are amassing for research and treatment.

at the same time as i am thrilled, i hear the concerns about the waste of water (i just spent part of a week with residents of sierra leon who know all too well how precious water is) and see the risk of making what is supposed to be awareness raising become “awareness of how awesome i am and look at me.” it doesn’t stop for me there, however. my own friends and colleagues who have taken the challenge (most of whom have iced themselves plus given money) inspire me. they are willing to be vulnerable in front of a camera, they are willing to put themselves out there in order to promote important work, and, ultimately, it feels as though they are light heartedly joining in a big warm community event.

when i received the challenge i was wracked with distress. should i just write a check? do i really want to call anyone out by name? must i post a video? what will my draught living friends think about me wasting water? is it respectful to those i know who struggle with the painful reality of actual disease to make a video that could seem like i’m promoting myself? i was tied in knots and paralyzed. i processed my concerns with some friends who took my serious concerns very seriously, reminding me that i could take the challenge in whatever way suited me best. then my husband chimed in. “the whole thing is also just fun.” he is right and as much as i want to honor my friends who need water and the community who needs me to take things very seriously i also want to stretch myself to sometimes just lighten up.

so, today, after a run, i stood in a very dead part of my lawn and poured a huge bucket of ice water over my head (and onto the parched and dry grass). i chose not to record it digitally because the point for me isn’t that. for me, it was just doing it that mattered. cold and wet, i came inside, wrote two checks (one to the als foundation and one to american friends service committee*), and changed a promised technology talk at a university to a series of talks about reconciliation and non violence because kricket’s challenge included some twists. one, that i would give a monetary donation not only to als but also to a cause that promotes non violence, and, two, that i would have a conversation with someone about non violence, peace, and harmony because those are things that matter a lot to her (and to me). the final part of the challenge includes asking others to follow suit.

rather than calling out specific others to join me i am asking those of you who read or engage with my blog to take a challenge. i’m not sure what your challenge is because i’m hoping you will take five minutes or so to turn everything off (i’m not kidding) and consider these two questions: what would be a stretching way in which i could give? what would be a cause to which i could give that would lead me to grow a bit? if you aren’t someone who normally gives time, energy, or money to causes that matter to you, perhaps you are to give one of those precious commodities within the next two weeks. if you are someone who regularly gives, perhaps your challenge would be to give in a new way, to stretch yourself by either learning more about the causes you routinely support or finding new movements that might benefit from even small efforts on your part. if you normally write checks, might you consider showing up to volunteer? if you habitually give to international causes, might you find a local one to promote or give to in some way or vice versa? if you go ahead and take the als challenge as it is, might you at least read a bit about what als patients and families face and hold them in your heart and Love. the point is to listen to what would stretch you. heck...maybe your challenge is just to have more fun in ways that honor others...that was a big part of the challenge for me.

once you’ve settled on a challenge might you be willing to share it here via comment or on my facebook page (doreen dodgen-magee, psy.d.) so as to inspire and ignite others toward growing their flexibility and generativity? 

we all are prone to living habitually. this keeps us caught, sometimes tied up in knots. paralyzed in our responses to that which is new, outside of our comfort zones or awarenesses. a good old fashioned cold shower is helpful now and then to jump start our day, our week, our lives, our ways of being in the world.

*american friends service committee (http://afsc.org) does work in the u.s. and around the globe to promote peace, justice, and human dignity. part of my personal challenge is to see if i might be able to do some volunteer work with them around the issue of immigration.


in defense of toll takers and airport curbside parking monitors

i can usually make people smile. it’s not like i consciously try to do so. rather, it just happens. i appreciate people and don’t take for granted that they might be willing to interact with me. an offered smile is typically reciprocated, a kind word or gesture blushed at, thanked, or returned in kind. recently, however, i’ve met my match. i have found two groups of people that i cannot seem to affect, let alone quip cheerfully with me. my world is shaken.

recent trips to the midwest and the airport have brought me face to face with toll takers and the airport arrivals curbside parking monitors. if i were one to make sweeping generalizations (and i am not normally one to do so) i would suggest that these two groups of people are jaded. they are grumpy and sometimes border on cruel. take, for example, the time i told the curbside parking monitor that the person i was picking up was labored with crates and not physically strong, he told me, “move along. she’ll be waiting when you come back.” “she’s right there on the other side of the door,” i said, smiling, pointing to my 70 plus year old friend weighed down with parcels. “can you not hear me? move along.” he stated, the right side of his lip pulled up as if surprised by my smile and kind, softly delivered pleading. i sat there paralyzed wondering if i was being teased and smiled bigger and scrunched my eyebrows. he got out his ticket book and started writing. “move it or i write.” and so...i left my friend who was making her way through the revolving door. when i came back around to the curb i practically threw her luggage in the car. when i stopped to actually hug her, the attendant dropped his chin and looked over his sunglasses at me and motioned to his ticket book.

where the parking attendant was shaming and impatient the toll takers whose booths i recently frequented were indifferent. 100%, wholly committed to not giving a flying fig about any interaction i initiated. i tried plain smiles. i tried “you have a hard job.” i heaped thanks and gushed gratitude. i even offered one a power bar. i couldn’t get a single one of them to even utter a sound. most never even looked up. i commented to my midwest hosts how disheartened i was by the overwhelming sadness of the toll takers. i shared with them my failures at affecting any response and they simply rolled their eyes and said, “they’re all like that. give up trying. they hire people who are like that for a reason. they must. they’re all that way.” 

this struck me. could this be true? could a majority of grumpy, indifferent, non social, still faced people aspire to be toll takers? might people with major axes to grind or chips on their shoulders interview to monitor the curbs in the arrival area at airports? i don’t think so. rather, the individuals with these jobs and countless others like them (insert here jobs like bathroom cleaners at k-mart etc), have gotten themselves employed. their positions are neither high paying nor glamorous. they are placed in situations where they interact with hundreds (maybe even thousands) of people a day who are trying to get somewhere or to someone. to most people that encounter them, they are a means to an end. their employers want them to keep things moving efficiently and many of the people they interact with are likely trying to bend some rule. “having exact change applies to everyone else but me, right?” “when you say no stopping or parking in the arrivals area that certainly doesn’t mean i can’t wait for my friend who will take 5 minutes to walk from there to here does it?” it wouldn’t take long to burn out, to harden your heart and your face and your attitude. for every kind encounter there are likely hundreds where you are treated with disrespect, anger, or, even worse, complete disregard. what might it be like to spend your days taking money from people who never look at you? how would it feel to have your job description include keeping people from those they are anticipating and preventing convenience. no wonder they don’t respond. it might just be too much to do so.

last night i was conducting a meeting at a table in an urban park. there was a concert beginning when my colleague and i wrapped up so i chose to sit and partake for a while. when the dancing began a young man in his early 20’s caught my eye. he looked familiar, like someone i know who lives (i thought) in another city. the music was zydeco and this young man was escorting a woman 50 years his senior to the dance floor. my heart leapt as i watched him leading and spinning her and smiling. i thought, “what a gift those two are giving to each other...and to me.” it always moves me when i see people who don’t appear to “go together” relating and engaging. especially when it’s across generational, gender, race, religious, or socio economic gaps. these two were a mismatched pair but the young man appeared to be trying diligently to engage in a fun and light hearted way. i hoped that my son might do the same and that i might take similar risks to offer fun to someone’s day.

as the evening went on i scanned the crowd for the young man to see if the woman was with him; his grandmother, an aunt, an old family friend, but could find neither him nor her. i wanted to tell them how inspired i was by seeing them share space on the dance floor. on a whim i texted the young man he reminded me of to see if he’d happened to be at the park. hours later he replied that he was. when i told him how deeply touched i had been by seeing him initiate the dance he replied with, “she was NOT havin’ it. haha. she got really cranky and left. but i tried...”  there’s wisdom there. he tried. 

the person i reach out to might wrinkle their nose (and a whole half of their face) in response to my effort. they might think me crazy or double motived or both. they might leave me standing, alone, on the dance floor. when i reach out i might be met with silence, blank stares, judgement, and possibly even a ticket. i may get push back or nothing at all and yet i must try. there is no need for me to be assured of a response and even less need for me to assume that the recipient of my kindness is somehow at fault. i need not judge. i cannot pretend to know what it feels like to stand in the shoes of those at whom i smile. the response to my effort is not mine but the way in which i value, honor, and treat others is. i will not be stopped by my own inability to handle rejection or judgement. and i will also not be stopped along the curbside at arrivals at pdx. i’ll smile from my window as i drive happily by, letting my passenger jump into my moving car so as not to offend...


to the person who left the note on the bathroom mirror in the tea shop in se portland

thank you. the message and simplicity of your note turned my day around. i know that you had no idea that i, in particular, would encounter the little white sticky you penned and left behind but i am grateful that you trusted your gut and left it. i have a feeling you turned more than one day around because who among us doesn’t want, at times, to feel as though we are beautiful? the fact that you know this is a gift. the fact that you trusted your gut in communicating it and taking the time to tell us is a miracle. it’s a miracle because:

1)  mostly i feel frazzled when i catch a glimpse of myself in a public restroom mirror. fluorescent lights are not forgiving and i am too often caught short when i look into eyes that look like some weird mix of my former self and my older ancestors. don’t get me wrong, my ancestors are lovely folks but i never remember that i’ve come to be their age until i see myself in the middle of a long string of errands; exhausted, rushed, and dark circled. gazing at your note instead of into these eyes felt like a blessing.

2)  i want to think that what might make me beautiful has very little to do with the image i see in the mirror but, rather, with the fact that i am a living breathing human being. given that you left this message for me without even knowing how i look makes me feel like you believe this too and affirm the internal qualities of humanity within me. this was a relief.

3)  i live in a world where unconditional affirmation is rare. your bold declaration had no strings attached. i felt as though you simply had a message that you thought i needed and you took the steps to communicate it. this was bold and counter cultural in every right way.

and so, again, i thank you. you’ve inspired me to carry a sticky note pad and a pen in order to bless, relieve, and affirm others. some day i hope one of those “others” can be you because you are beautiful!


how to ruin anything

i set a lot of goals for myself. a lot. i like breaking these down into sets of tasks then listing them, with great specificity, on pieces of paper where i can check them off. this leaves me at great risk for feeling massive amounts of success and failure, accomplishment and lack thereof. some times i like to turn even leisurely activities into tasks to be completed. let me re-state that. sometimes my drivenness causes me to turn activities that should be engaged in for fun into accomplishments to be accumulated. this goes against everything i deeply believe in: being present to the moment, resisting comparisons and judgement, and believing that who i am is more important than what i do. i want to bring my behavior into line with these more deeply held ideals and yet i am too often a prisoner to my own cognitive and behavioral bad habits and unconscious hurtful tendencies. 

every summer i set a goal for myself regarding how many outdoor concerts i will attend. this began several years ago when i realized i wasn’t making time to engage in things that fed my soul. in these early years i needed opportunities to be lost in a crowd, in natural urban settings, enjoying music and getting opportunities to dance and rest concurrently. my hope was that in creating a measurable goal for myself i would hold myself accountable to doing something that was difficult for me. i have been realizing, however, that this has turned into a weighty pursuit for me, causing me to race and run and stress about how to accomplish it. my goal has become a ridiculous finish line of sorts that has me engaging something that should be beautiful in a way that is anything but.

in realizing how often i’ve ruined my own fun (and growth) with this kind of behavior, i have come to create a new list of how to ruin anything. if you, like me, have a tendency to turn every good idea, well meaning endeavor, or altruistic impulse into an imperative with power to determine your worth, read on.

doreen’s incomplete, but fully potent, list of how to ruin anything: 

1 make it a competition (even if only with yourself).

competition can be good. it can spur us toward greater effort and even inspire us to push ourselves into spaces we might not otherwise explore. it can also, however, kill. experiences are to be had, not captured and clung to like trophies to display. winning for winning’s sake is shallow when substituted for experiencing something fully. the journey toward a goal is rife with meaning and pregnant with opportunity. if we push too hard, too fast, and too single-mindedly toward winning/achieving/accumulating a certain outcome, we miss all the gifts that the journey offers. setting a number, a benchmark, or a rank that will mean you’ve “won/accomplished/achieved” sets you up to place yourself in one of two categories: success or failure. 

we are healthier when we are flexible, adaptable, resilient, and open. too focused a stare on the finish line (e.g. “i’ll succeed when i’ve lost X pounds,” “i can’t rest until i close X number of sales,” “i will be sitting pretty when i’ve amassed X amount in my savings,” “i can take a break when i have every single closet in my house cleaned,” “i will have arrived when i have 1000 facebook friends/twitter followers,” etc) keeps us from getting to learn from the entire journey. crossing the finish line is one thing. fully engaging the struggle to get there is a different thing all together. it affords the sweat and struggle and muscle pulls and defeated thoughts and so much more to teach us, to shape us, and to keep us aware that there is so much to be learned in trying. possibly even more than there is in simply “winning.”

2 make it (super) public.

there is no better way to feed a competitive streak (even if only with our selves) than to make our goals known publicly. post the goal, tell our friends, begin wearing t-shirts (affixing bumper stickers, wearing buttons, you get the drift...) that let on to the pursuit, then constantly include the goal and our progress toward it in facebook and instagram feeds. bring it up in every conversation. this will cement our focus on accomplishing an outcome rather than on learning from the journey. if we have any tendency toward missing to forest for the trees, making our efforts overly public will assure us of missing even the trees for the leaves.

it’s important to note that i am not talking about passing up opportunities for emotional support, accountability, and help. those are all fantastic and sometimes public in really wonderful ways. rather, i’m talking about the tendency we all face to engage our goals as if they have the power to define us then making sure others know just how well we’re doing. which brings me to...

3 give your pursuit(s) a lot of power to determine your worth/value/coolness or hipness.

most of us deal with deep feelings of insecurity and inferiority. we create personas based on what we can and have accomplished and hope that they will be enough to win us approval and connection. the reality is, however, that we are who we are, not what we accomplish. brene brown says it best when she says that “you can’t get to courage without walking through vulnerability.” sometimes the most vulnerable thing is to admit to who we truly are rather than to try to accomplish our way into who we are not. it takes a lot of courage to be a journey-er and experience-er rather than a finisher in the world’s eyes (or possibly even in your own).

4 evaluate your progress (or lack there of) every single chance you get.

knowing where we are is important. basing our sense of worth on where we are, however, is dangerous. a fixed mindset says that we are valuable when we have achieved this or that goal. it says that we can arrive and that our worth is based upon succeeding or failing to do so. it also implies that we can go from winner to loser based upon our performance. a growth mindset, on the other hand, says that effort and openness build upon our inherent worth and bring us to places of greater resiliency and maturity. 

trying (and keeping trying) is more important than accomplishing. effort is more important than acquisition. rewarding behaviors that place the emphasis on these truths keeps us aware that, in the long run, the journey is the most potent prize.

5 keep at it even after you know you should jump ship.

sometimes our goals sustain us. they keep us trying and growing and getting healthier. sometimes, however, we run amuck and they become unhealthy focal points, making us feel like winners or losers even though the pursuits are purely arbitrary. when they bring us to places of rigid success/failure mindsets or when they cause us to forego the important lessons of the journey in order to win the prize it is time to lay them down. they have lost their power for good.

which brings me to this, it is july 25 and i am two thirds of the way to my summer concert goal. this goal has been something i’ve been really proud of and blessed by. it’s pushed me to do important things and has taught me much. i need, however, to put it aside. music and dancing and being lost in a crowd are just too important to me to ruin them and i have learned i can ruin just about anything. so tonight, if and when i find some music to enjoy, i will not count and i will not post and i will not let myself feel i’ve accomplished anything other than being in the moment. (insert huge sigh of humbled relief.) anyone wantneed to join me in lightening their load by laying something down before it's entirely ruined? we can learn so much together.


what is real?

i’ve been thinking a lot lately about what is real.

it’s not uncommon, after hearing one of my talks or stumbling across my blog, for people to communicate with me about how much they notice the youth among them choosing their cell phones/ipads/video games over their “real” lives. it’s easy to nod knowingly and riff on the presented theme. a few months back, however, a brilliant faculty member from a prestigious liberal arts college, challenged the members of a panel i was on about what the phrase “real life” really even means anymore. at the time, i stumbled around for an answer, eventually redirecting to the need for balance between digital life and embodied life. i really wish i could answer that question today because, from here, the answer i gave looks really lame.

a couple of weeks ago i sat in a crowded pub watching the u.s.a. vs. belgium world cup game. sitting, alone, amongst hundreds of strangers to watch a game on a large flat screen, i marveled at the palpable energy of the assembled mass. there was nothing not real about the experience we all shared in the space of the 3 hours for which we were gathered. we cheered as though our encouragement could literally affect play (why else would 300 people chant “u - s - a” over and over at an image projected onto a slide projector screen?). we hung our heads at missed opportunities and high fived every heroic save made by tim howard. sure, we weren’t sitting in the real stadium, in the real host country of brazil but we were having a real experience together.

there are so many ways that this kind of realization applies both to our relationships with technology tools and the people/places/experiences that they make available to us.

we have, as a people, developed very real responses and attachments to our devices. headlines almost two years ago reported that the brain responds to iphone message indicators in similar patterns as it does to love. we can go full days without many things, but leave our phones behind and we feel agitated and anxious, certain that we will miss out for the lack of them. and, actually, we likely will. without said phones how will we find our way, send a message, recall a phone number, know the time, or take notes or photos? we have come to rely upon these devices in very real ways and we have attached real feelings to them. we’re grateful for the specificity and accuracy of the directions they give, information they deliver, and content they provide access to. we’re giddy with how effective they make us and relieved when they can save us from loneliness or boredom. sometimes we imagine them as experiencing feelings for us. how could they not love us when they’ve learned us so well and deliver so amazingly consistently. i catch myself, at times, feeling guilty when i miss a turn that siri directs me to make. i actually feel bad for making her recalculate the route. the reality of this humbles me. 

not only do we feel real feelings toward our devices but we have real experiences in the digital spaces they deliver us into. the friends that a middle or high school aged boy makes online while playing mmorpg’s (that’s massive multi-player online role playing games for those of you new to the acronym) quickly become real friends to him. they may never meet in embodied space but they will, over the course of game play, spend immense amounts of time amassing shared experiences with strategy in environments made specifically to heighten emotion. the same can be said for anyone who meets others in an online game, chat space, or digital environment. the connections may not be happening between people in a shared physical space but the emotions and connections that are stirred and strengthened are every bit as real.

yesterday i stopped into a well known restaurant chain to order a customized sandwich. this is not an “i’ll take a number 2 with everything” place. you have a lot of preferences to communicate with the artist making your sandwich. it was lunch time and the place was packed. the person ahead of me had earbuds in both ears and was on an active call. her four year old daughter held a $20 bill but couldn’t see over the counter or talk loudly enough to be heard. i was shocked when the mother completed her entire order and payment without ever removing an earbud or interrupting her call. i wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt. i kept waiting to hear, “what hospital?” or “i can’t believe you’ve called me mr. president!” or “is triple A on their way?” i wanted to believe that the call was so important that it absolutely couldn’t be interrupted to order her daughter’s lunch. instead, i overheard mentions of where they’d vacationed the week before, who was there, and what she made for dinner while pointing and gesturing about what to include or omit on the sandwich being made for her. clearly, the person with whom she was talking was much more real to her than any of us in her embodied context. she made that overwhelmingly clear.

we all have experiences like this. they leave us feeling stirred up and wanting to righteously  point out the rudeness that we have witnessed to the person who perpetuated it. we want to rant, and we do. and then, when we’re bored in line or awkward in public or just alone we turn to our own devices to entertain, comfort, and distract us from those in our embodied/real environments. they keep us even from real interaction with our selves. we are all, i suspect, guilty of choosing the digital real to the embodied real from time to time.

no longer can we say, “so and so avoids their real life by spending their time with video games,” or “we’re facebook friends but not real friends,” or, “sure i watch porn online but it’s not like i act out in my real life.” we just can’t. our digital lives are part of our real lives and it’s up to us to make sure we maintain a balance, keep ourselves capable of embodied connection, and be willing to put our devices fully away from time to time. 

and so, ask yourself, “what is my real?” observe the ratio of digital real to embodied real in your own life and weigh in with your self about where adjustments might be made. every time you feel tempted to evaluate someone else’s success or failure in navigating the balance, let it go and give them reason, healthy/embodied/compelling reasons, to connect with you in real time and with real meaning...where ever that may be.