By Joran Slane Oppelt
“Everyone can perform magic, everyone can reach his goals, if he is able to think, if he is able to wait, if he is able to fast.”
—Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha
It wasn’t even my idea. It was my seven-year-old daughter, Alchemy, who suggested it.
“Daddy, let’s go a week without watching TV!”
Her mother, Jennifer, and I had just finished our second juice cleanse of the year, and I think Alchemy was caught up in all the cleansing and fasting and wanted somehow to be a part of it all. She got no argument from us. In fact, we had just been commenting on her ability to lose herself for hours in the ridiculous time-suck that is the “EZ Bake Oven” app on her iPad.
Recognizing the opportunity to break myself of that nasty texting-and-driving habit, I suggested we also incorporate devices and apps (like Facebook and Twitter) into the mix. Since Alchemy didn’t have access to these, she was cool with it.
So, here were the fast and not-so-loose ground rules for our Seven Day Media Cleanse:
1) No TV
2) No apps
3) No Internet
This meant no Facebook, Twitter, Netflix or Hulu and (voluntarily) included iTunes and streaming audio services (we use Beats). For seven days, we would listen to vinyl at home and have only work-related access to email and Google Drive.
Day One: Sunday
We decided to start on a Sunday, as it seemed like a day we could easily keep ourselves occupied. However, I had forgotten this wasn’t any normal Sunday. Jen had class all day, and I had the kids.
My morning routine usually consisted of me opening my eyes, hopping out of bed, going to the bathroom, then getting back into bed and lying there for at least another half hour scrolling through my Twitter and Facebook feeds. Not so this morning. I got up, saw Jen out the door, made a cup of tea, put on a record, and started getting the kids ready for the day. I always find it easier to leave the house altogether when I have them. If we’re on the go, they can’t get bored, and they can’t make a mess. Do other dads do this?
We had plenty of books and records at the house to last us through the week, but we made a trip to Daddy Kool and Planet Retro to buy some records missing from our collection just in case. This seemed completely justified and even proactive at the time. In hindsight, I guess I just like to shop for records.
Our dinner routine usually consisted of sitting at the coffee table and watching TV while we eat. However, when Jen got home, we had dinner at the dining room table—something we hadn’t done in awhile. I said a short blessing before the meal, and we enjoyed facing each other, talking, and laughing.
Day Two: Monday
Not being able to listen to music while driving took some getting used to. The car is where I listened to the music I wanted to hear. I listen to entire albums at a time, and I listen to them loud. I most likely look like a fool to other drivers in traffic as I drum on the steering wheel and shred wicked air guitar solos. After I dropped the kids off at school, it was just me, my thoughts, and the silence. And the silence was deafening. My ears rang and my head throbbed. I talked to myself, and at times even noticed myself yelling—not in anger, just talking loud to fill the emptiness.
When I arrived at the office in Tampa, I immediately removed all shortcuts to Facebook and Twitter from my web browser, and only once did I click on a client’s Facebook link out of habit. That little blue “f” just kinda pulled me in, but I managed to close the tab before it loaded.
Day Three: Tuesday
While packing the kids in the car on this morning, I decided to leave my bag (containing my phone) in the back seat. It usually sits on the passenger seat like a third child, and sometimes I even lay my arm across it when applying the brakes to stop it from sliding (or spilling) onto the floorboard. But since I didn’t need my phone, there was no sense in it being there to distract me.
You don’t notice how often you text while driving (or even just reach for your phone—checking the playlist or seeing if any emails came in while sitting at a stoplight)—until you can’t. This is a very dangerous habit that divides your attention in more directions than you might think. If you’re not focused on your environment, completely aware of your surroundings when you’re driving a vehicle, you might as well be impaired. And I realized that I’ve been very lucky so far in avoiding an accident or worse.
This morning, after dropping the kids at school, I worked from home and found it really hard to concentrate. I wanted more than anything to just sit on the couch and watch a movie. It was an unfamiliar kind of craving. I didn’t want to watch a specific movie, I just felt compelled to sit and stare at a screen.
Day Four: Wednesday
For some reason, on Wednesday we once again ate dinner at the coffee table in the living room. We said a blessing and were seated on cushions, facing each other in a circle. There was more communication happening within the household and a sense that we were talking about things that had been put off for some time. We were getting caught up and current with each other on daily events, family business, our relationships with each other, and we were sharing things (meaningful things, reflections and insights—especially important for the children to hear) that we simply hadn’t the time or opportunity to do before.
Day Five: Thursday
I worked in on Thursday. I had a few meetings and some site visits for upcoming events. I found myself not wanting to be cooped up in the office too much. Placing my laptop at the bar in the event space and using it as a standing desk helped, but I still felt the urge to just do the work and move on, instead of sitting in a poorly-designed chair in front of a screen all day—which only led to chronic soreness.
After picking up Alchemy from school, the most amazing thing happened in the car. We started singing improvised lines to each other, and responding to each other in verse. By the time we got home, we had written an entire song (called “I Love Ice”) complete with verse, chorus, and bridge sections—and we had great fun performing it for Jen.
Maybe it was because we were riding high from the amazing song we just wrote, feeling the rush of adrenaline and the invincibility of the ego, or maybe we just weren’t thinking straight. But on the night of day five, we did something reckless. We broke the fast.
We had dinner at the coffee table. We still said a blessing, but we decided as a group that we wanted to watch something “short and educational” while we ate. As Alchemy has shown interest in special effects makeup and movie monsters, we ended up with Lon Chaney: Behind the Mask, a documentary about the late actor. Then the kids got washed up and ready for bed.
Day Six: Friday
It was Father’s Friday at Ashton’s school, which meant that the Dads were supposed to drop the kids off that morning, and then hang out for a bit to play some games and socialize. Usually, when put in that situation (a bunch of men standing around who don’t know each other, forced to make small talk about the weather or sports) I would find myself uncomfortable, or finding reasons to leave. This morning, I found myself extremely relaxed, clear-headed, aware and in control of my emotional reactions to certain social triggers, and easily making conversation with the teachers and other parents.
Day Seven: Saturday
There was an event committee meeting at our friend Christa’s house. We gathered to make some last minute decisions on an upcoming festival, shared a pot luck meal together, and had a great time hanging out with friends. Inevitably, I had an allergic reaction to Christa’s cat, so we had to go home early. Overall, a relaxing Saturday with the family. Didn’t miss the screens one bit.
The Day After: Super Bowl Sunday
The fast was over and, at the urging of our friends, we took our first trip to the WatMongkolrata Temple in North Tampa. Every Sunday, the property is turned into a traditional Thai marketplace and serves hearty soups, meats, curries, custards, and Thai teas. We got one of everything and, to this day, I can still smell (and taste) that meal. Apparently, everyone was keeping this place a secret, as we saw a bunch of friends there who claimed to have been coming for years. Thanks, guys. We got to visit the inside of the recently-renovated temple and offer some prayers to The Buddha (with toes pointed well away from the statues) before heading home. An unforgettable end to the week, and an amazing end to a truly rewarding fast.
For seven days, I rarely touched my phone. A stark contrast to the usual relationship I have with the device—a constant need to click and fondle, the straining of the eyes to scrutinize and decipher it’s small type and the panic when it’s not immediately within reach. To hear it told, you’d think I was an obsessive and domineering partner. But that’s how we behave when we are fixated. That’s how we act when we are addicted.
For seven days, I was not exposed to any on-screen advertising; pop-up, in-line or email notifications; marketing messages; in-app upgrade opportunities; pornographic images or news feeds (local or national). The effects were dramatic and the benefits were clear—I was calmer, more level-headed, more focused, and less prone to distraction. In the last couple days, I also felt a palpable happiness that was like a kind of warmth throughout my body.
Going forward, a media cleanse should be considered a serious part of any regular sacred fasting tradition (Lent, Ramadan, Maha Shivaratri, etc.). As with any dietary cleanse, the conditions are not universal, and it would not be the same (nor necessarily recommended) for everyone. However, the results consistently indicate that a more routine management of exposure to these types of media continues to yield significant benefits—including stress reduction, increased productivity, heightened overall well-being and most importantly, a sense of real (not artificial or virtual) connectedness to those around us.
Like any tool or prosthetic, if we allow the virtual web and our various devices to be a substitute for our own hardware (body), software (mind) or GPS (soul), we risk confusing this partial view of the Universe for the bigger picture.
We risk confusing the technosphere with what Pierre Teilhard De Chardin called the “noösphere.” And we risk the atrophy and permanent loss of the latter for the former. Empathy, or the ability to feel subtle emotional and energetic shifts around us, will never develop as long as we are looking at a screen to find out how our friends and community are “feeling.” Like the human bodies used as batteries in the film The Matrix, we risk being a “wet cell,” plugged into a larger machine that relies on us to survive.
We risk never actually living ourselves. We risk everything.
It’s Your Turn
Are you interested in participating in a group media cleanse? Are you interested in cutting down your device (or social media) time, but not committing to a full seven days or more?
Try these tips to break you of your old habits.
Get some distance. Charge your phone across the room at night—don’t be tempted to check any feeds before you’re fully awake. Place your phone out of reach while driving, either in the back seat or trunk. Try silence on the car radio and see how it feels.
Put your phone away when you’re eating. If you’re with someone who is constantly checking updates on the phone, simply look him or her in the eye and initiate some conversation.
Go hands-free! Use a headset when on the phone. The less you touch and fondle the device, the more you will reduce your compulsive and tactile attachment to it. And some argue that it’s just plain healthier.
Disrupt your routine. Remove all links and shortcuts to distracting sites (like Facebook and Twitter) from your bookmarks, tabs, favorites, etc. Keep a tally of the amount of times you unconsciously try to click on something that’s no longer there.
If the idea of a cleanse or fast seems too radical or drastic for you, then simply be more aware of your behavior involving these screens, devices, apps, and software. By constantlyweeding and pruning your apps, newsletters, feeds, network, (and yes, even friends), you are engaging in conscious personal development. You are developing a higher and more acute level of “infotention” (a word penned by futurist Howard Rheingold). And you are affirming that you are no longer the same person you were when you subscribed to the “Southern Women’s Turkey Meatball Recipes” e-newsletter back in 2011.
Unsubscribe to any e-newsletters that have become irrelevant or impractical. Don’t mark them as spam or delete them. Unsubscribe.
“Unfollow” any people, brands, personalities, or accounts that you no longer enjoy or find authentic. People change, inside and out. And your favorites, lists, and feeds are a direct reflection of you, your tastes, and interests. Delete and deny access to any unused or extraneous apps that you have allowed access to your social media accounts.
“Unfriend.” That’s right, I said it. I don’t care if they’re family. If that cousin of yours and his political or religious views are causing you undue stress or distraction, unfriend him! You’ll still be related by blood, and you can still pick up the phone if you need to tell him you love him.
Be present, do the work, and move on.
Joran Slane Oppelt is a blogger, musician, interfaith minister, marketer, chaplain, public speaker, father, event producer, husband, and facilitator—not necessarily in that order. Joran is the founder of the Integral Church in St. Petersburg, FL, and has spoken at many colleges and conferences including South by Southwest in Austin, TX. Integral Church is an interfaith community that encourages individuals to create their own personal transformative practice, using the tools and teachings from the world’s major wisdom traditions in a pluralistic and sacred environment. For more information, follow @joranslane on Twitter or visit integralchurch.org.
This article is an excerpt from the book Transform Your Life! Expert Advice, Practical Tools, and Personal Stories, written by 60 real-life heroes and experts and available atwww.Transformation-Publishing.com, Amazon.com, BN.com, and all ebook formats.