We could be doing it better.
You might be too young to remember this, but there was a time people walked around without phones.
I know, right?
The details of that time are distant and fuzzy and somewhat mythical. I mostly remember the inconvenience of it. Things like: showing up at the wrong movie theater and having to watch Titanic alone (again). Ditto for driving to the wrong Denny’s. And I remember paper maps as in: actual maps made of paper, usually printed off MapQuest.
What did we stare at on the subway back then? The floor? Each other? Those advertisements for protein supplements? It’s unclear.
But I do know things changed when I got my first cell phone, and they haven’t been the same since.
Walking has changed. It seems more anxious now. Hurried. I wish we could reclaim the simple, beautiful act of putting one foot in front of the next: step, step, repeat.
Step, Step. Repeat.
Can it be done? Is it possible to walk somewhere today without thinking about anything ahead, without reliving something that’s already ended? Without checking your phone? Without Snapchatting a photo of yourself in a flower crown?
It seems to me, if we keep grabbing at things that aren’t really there, if we keep thinking of our future, and retreading past ground, we will lose our steps. Maybe we already have.
There’s a lovely suggestion Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn makes toward the end of his book Fear, in a segment he calls ‘Walking with the Sanga.’
“Make a contract with a staircase,” he writes. “Vow that you will always go up or down that staircase mindfully, with very solid steps…It’s a wonderful way to learn how to live every moment of your daily life deeply, resisting being carried away by your habit energy.”
It’s an interesting thought: this idea that we each have one, maybe more than one.
So many of us are in the habit of over-checking our phones. It’s the first thing we reach for in the morning. It’s by our bed at night. I think the phone thing (I think social media over-use in general), has to do with feeling unsettled; with a shakiness that starts on the ground level of the house, in the basement of our selves. It has to do with a deep sense of dissatisfaction. With a poor sense of self-worth. Not having a strong foundation causes all sorts of things. Grasping. Suffering. Jealousy. Pride. Possessiveness.
Someone doesn’t feel worthy. Competent. Loved. She doesn’t feel like she’s enough. But instead of going in, she goes out. Way out. She starts chasing likes. Snapping pictures. Posing a zillion times a day. Scrolling into infinity.
See me, she says. Notice me. Tell me I’m beautiful.
Tell me it’s going to be all right.
But it’s already all right. She doesn’t need anyone to tell her that. Her thighs are just fine. Her hair is on fleek. She’s a good mother. People like her. She can stop scrolling now. We all can. We can stop hunting for affirmation outside of ourselves. We can put down the phone. Shutter the camera. Log off Instagram already.
We can promise to stop being so curious about what’s happening in other people’s lives, and try to develop a curiosity about what’s happening in our own.
We can take a walk. Really.
We can walk not to arrive, but to experience. We can slip off our shoes, find a stretch of grass. We can notice how the cool blades feel against the soft soles of our bare feet.
Here’s something: today, try holding hands with someone like you mean it. A lover. A friend. A child. The two of you, walk together. Slowly. Feel it all. The smell of a grill, fired up. Your fingers, interlaced. Take one step together. Two. Three. Ten. Don’t photograph any of it.
Be very aware of everything. The chirp of the sparrows. The breeze against your neck. The sun warming the crown of your head. Each step is a step in the right direction! Each step, something blooms in your heart, at your feet.
Does this sound cheesy to you?
Okay, maybe it is cheesy. But that’s life, isn’t it? It’s mostly cheese, much like the moon. Nothing is an adequate substitute for it. Deep down, no one really likes artificial cheese. And yet we resist this basic truth, not realizing that everything right here, right now isn’t just fine, it’s a small miracle.
We don’t realize that, when it comes to our lives, no filter is necessary at all.