Balancing Mind, Body & Digital Devices

Digital Devices and Mindfulness: A Day of Exploration

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Nalanda West’s recent weekend event, “Balancing Mind, Body & Digital Devices” opened with a panel discussion moderated by Karli Anne Christiansen, Chief Compassion Officer of the Compassionate Action Network (CAN). For the past three years, Nalanda West and CAN have collaborated on programs designed to provide information about how to live a more compassionate life.

Friday evening focused on four approaches to living mindfully in the midst of a rapidly changing technological landscape. Each of the panelists — Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, David M. Levy, Julie Jacobs, and Hilarie Cash — shared practical exercises and thoughtful responses to the questions of how to balance mind and body while not being consumed by ever-present digital devices; and how to become aware of when we are using technology as a tool and when technology is using us.

Addiction to the Internet and Digital Devices

Christiansen asked Hilarie Cash, an expert in Internet addiction, about reSTART, a long-stay center she co-founder to help her clients, typically young adult men who have failed out of college or work due to addiction to digital devices. Often in poor health, they are sleep deprived, socially isolated, depressed and anxious. “They retreated into the screen, a complex never-ending world of video games,” Cash said, “and built their identities around the games. They’re not functional in the world, but highly functional in the games. It’s a behavioral addiction, which operates like a chemical addiction. Internet gaming disorder is being considered for inclusion in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.” During the detox period, reSTART clients spend 30 to 45 days without screen time, regain their health and rebalance their brain chemistry. “They learn to use technology without addiction and begin to develop what they neglected over the years, such as social interaction and connection,” Cash said. “Tech is here to stay, so having a healthy relationship with it depends upon time, content and how much we control it.”

Using Digital Devices to #GoKind

Turning to Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, the founder of Nalanda West and Nalandabodhi, a widely celebrated Buddhist teacher and author Emotional Rescue among other books, Christiansen asked if online technology — social media, texting and online communities — can satisfy the basic human need for connection. Rinpoche answered that while it’s our inherent nature to feel the need for love, connection and belonging, he doesn’t think technology can replace the real human connection. “At the end of the day,” he said, “we have to address our own issues (accepting love, kindness and making connections) because technology cannot.” He explained that technology by itself is neutral, neither good nor bad, but changes depending on how we use it. “Technology is miraculous, instant and can do great harm or great benefit,” he said. “It can be a beautiful tool, if used with kindness. It can reach so many people. We can use it to connect with the human heart and bring kindness into action.” Rinpoche recently launched an online initiative — #GoKind — with the mission to “to activate and raise kindness consciousness.” Posts show examples of how people all over the world are connecting with their heart of kindness and then taking action to make a difference in other lives. “If I can make someone smile, then they make someone smile and pass it on, then the whole world may smile,” he said with a smile.

Balancing Mind, Body & Digital Devices

Artwork by Lynne Conrad Marvet © 2017

Practicing Mindfulness with Our Digital Devices

David M. Levy is the author of the recently released book, Mindful Tech: How to Bring Balance to our Digital Lives. Christiansen commented that tech and mindfulness see to be opposites and wondered about the trend of tech companies to promote mindfulness for their employees. “Is it possible for apps to be of help? That’s a good question to keep asking” he said. “The more we can be aware when using tools online, the more we can evaluate if we are using them wisely.” In his book and classroom, Levy said he doesn’t tell others what they should do, rather he encourages them to make their own discoveries by observing how they use technology. For the past 16 years, Levy has taught at the University of Washington Information School and has spoken at colleges around the country. Two decades ago, in the article, “I’m not here right now to take your call: Technology and Absence,” Levy posed the question: “Is it possible that technologies being marketed to connect us are disconnecting us?” Back then, giving voice to worries about technologies was not common, but the cultural conversation is changing. “We are beginning to accept that these tools are powerful and positive for our economy, but can also be negative, even dangerous in terms of addiction. We are on a strong learning curve as a culture,” he said. “Tech is powerful and valuable, but problematic and dangerous in other ways.”

When You’re on Your Phone or Computer, What’s Happening in Your Body?

Christiansen then asked Julie Jacobs, a physical therapist, how using technology can affect our bodies. With a twinkle in her eyes, Julie introduced her assistant Leo, a two-foot high human skeleton. Bending his spine, collapsing his abdomen and extending his head forward, Julie gave a vivid example of what our bodies look like seated in front of a computer. She explained how we mostly unconsciously assume that position: “Our eyes want to touch the world. When we look at a screen, it is virtual, so we are literally drawn in. We don’t breathe well as we bend in. Our eyes are super focused and our hamstrings tighten. That affects our bones and neurology. We need to take a break from the computer and reengage with the world and our senses.” Asking the audience to participate, Julie taught several exercises designed to counteract the negative effects of screen time. From using one’s hands to soften the eyes, to engaging in “lunar breath” by breathing through the nose with a long exhale, to the “cat stretch” performed at one’s desk, Julie encouraged the audience to experience how posture is dynamic, and how we gain awareness by staying in tune with our bodies.

The evening concluded with a reception for the panelists and a chance for audience members to engage in further discussion with them. On Saturday, everyone returned to Nalanda West for the daylong workshop.

Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche

Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche

Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche

Rinpoche is the founder of Nalanda West and Nalandabodhi and author of many books, including Emotional Rescue: How to Work with your Emotions to Transform Hurt and Confusing into Energy that Empowers You. A poet, artist, calligrapher and leading scholar of Tibetan Buddhism, Rinpoche is an internationally celebrated Buddhist teacher. Dzogchen Ponlop teaches tools and techniques on how to work with one’s mind in any situation.

David M. Levy, PhD

David M. Levy

David M. Levy

David holds a PhD in technology from Stanford University, a diploma in calligraphy and bookbinding from the Roehampton Institute, is a professor at the University of Washington Information School and author of Mindful Tech: How to Bring Balance to our Digital Lives. He investigates the challenge of achieving a contemplative balance in an accelerating technological culture.

Julie Jacobs, RPT

Julie Jacobs

Julie Jacobs

Julie graduated with a degree in physical therapy from the Mayo Clinic. In her work, she weaves her skills of hands-on therapies with fluid systems, movement and perception. She believes one’s adaptability creates “elegant habits” in our bodies and the way we move in the modern world.

Hilarie Cash, PhD, LMHC

Hillarie Cash

Hilarie Cash

Hilarie is an expert in Internet and video game addiction. She cofounded reSTART Center for Digital Technology Sustainability, a long-stay retreat center in the U.S. and Canada for teens experiencing serious, sometimes life-threatening, problems with digital and screen use. She co-authored the book Video Games and Your Kids: How Parents Stay in Control.


Karli Anne Christiansen

Karli Anne Christensen

Karli Anne Christensen

Karli is the Chief Compassion Officer of CAN. A Seattle native with nearly a decade of leadership in the region’s nonprofit sector, Karlie specializes in serving youth and families and supports other nonprofit leaders. She received recognition by Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education for her contributions to compassionate technologies. She is a certified Roots of Empathy instructor and leads social and emotional learning instruction in local public schools.