In 1997, I lived in Greece and worked as a bartender at a resort on the island of Corfu. The resort, perched on the side of the Ionian Sea, was a short swim from the villa that we lived in and the food we ate often came straight from the sea. The days on this island were sunny, hot and so beautifully slow. Although I didn’t really appreciate it at the time, it felt as if no one on the island was in a rush – not at the resort, nor the neighbouring village, or even the city of Corfu. It was the kind of place where waiting was commonplace; things unapologetically took time.
Life on the island was slow, and so were we. There was only one phone at the resort shared by guests and staff alike. No one had a computer, cell phones were not yet ubiquitous and there was one old and dusty TV behind the bar. Letters and postcards to family and friends were written on days off and evenings, knowing that a reply would take weeks to arrive. Communication with anyone who wasn’t in our immediate vicinity was limited and sporadic, at best.
This summer marks 20 years since that idyllic time in Greece and it is amazing to think about how much has changed. Since then, a wave of technological advancement and hyper-connectivity has impacted much of life on this globe. As a species, we are more interconnected than ever before. Communication today is immediate and wide-reaching. Speed and efficiency are revered in most areas of life and the patchwork of what it means to be human is instantly captured on platforms like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.
I share the story of the ‘good old days’ in Greece, not for nostalgic purposes but because it highlights the significant impact that hyper-connectivity has had on us, humans. Somewhere between then and now, life sped up. Above and beyond the regular and expected ways that life speeds up – the full-time jobs, the families and the community commitments – we have become increasingly adept at filling up all of the available space in our lives.
When I reflect on my time in Greece, I realize that so much of our time there was filled with the kind of space that is a rarity in my life today. Outside of working as a bartender, my days were filled with the space to just be where I was. There was no pressure to be in touch, to update my Instagram account, to look at the news or keep up to date with what was going on in the world. Instead, I had the space to be with myself, to connect to those around me and to immerse myself in the stunning natural environment.
Flash forward to today, and when I encounter space in my day - when I am waiting in the grocery line, when I am a passenger in a car, or even when I take a break from my work - I find myself being drawn to my phone, wanting to respond to messages or check my social media accounts. The other week, I had tea with a friend and we ended up commiserating about the insidious nature of our mobile devices. Her morning routine of meditation and contemplation was being circumvented much too often by a strong desire to check messages and social media. Fed up, she downloaded an app (Forest) to help her deal with her version of phone addiction. For her, that morning space was precious, so she took action to preserve what was most important to her.
The truth is that it is 2017, not 1997, and most of us have lives that are much more complicated than my life as a 20-something living on a sleepy Greek island. Regardless of the content and the pressures in our lives, I would argue that each of us still has a choice. Despite all of our busyness, there are spaces in-between all of our doing where an opportunity awaits us. We can fill that space by watching television, checking our messages or social media accounts, or we can slow ourselves down and use this space to help us reconnect with ourselves, those around us, or our environment. Intentionally choosing a few moments of mindful breathing or contemplation, a short walk or stretch, a conversation with a colleague, or even simply making eye contact and smiling at a stranger (rather than the habitual phone-checking reflex) provides us with the opportunity to pause and inhabit the space between all of our doing. When we are mindful in this way, anxiety and stress levels decrease, we are better able to focus and we feel more present and in touch with our own lives.
There is no doubt about it, our mobile devices and our ability to be connected 24-7 is powerful, alluring and addictive. Like swimming upstream, the effort to disconnect takes determination and perseverance, but I believe the effort is not in vain. What we gain in return is the ability to slow everything down and take a moment to rest in the space of non-doing. And that, in my opinion, is priceless.