Young Voices: How Giving Up My Phone Changed My Life

- through Francois Leclercq

Published on

Young voices is a special project of Buddhadoor Global bringing together insightful essays written by high school students in the United States who have taken experiential learning-based courses rooted in Buddhist teaching. Working in parallel with BDG Beginner's mind project for middle school students, Young voices provides a platform for these students to share essays expressing their impressions and views on their exposure to the Buddhadharma and its relationship to their hopes, aspirations and expectations.

Bianca Morales wrote this essay for her Global Buddhisms class at Phillips Andover, a high school in Massachusetts.

How Giving Up My Phone Changed My Life

How to go from six hours of screen time per day to zero? It's simple: ditch your smartphone. At least, that's what I did for my global Buddhism course for a month. Putting my device back in was the easy part, but what followed was more difficult.

The biggest adjustment was not having social media. We live in the age of social media and according to Instagram I have over 1 friends, which I don't think is true in real life. But it feels good and it reproduces a sense of community to comment on people's posts and respond to each other's stories. When I had my phone, I would regularly delete and reinstall Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter because I thought it had been beneficial for my mental health while in high school, but not even having the ability to log into Instagram and scroll was different.

To be completely transparent, I logged into Instagram and Twitter several times on my computer. Partly because I wanted to scroll instead of think, but mostly because that's how I connect with people and wanted to maintain my friendships. Later, I discovered that most of my social media friendships would be acceptable, precisely because they are, by nature, superficial and can be picked up right where I left off. Meanwhile, the non-superficial relationships I wanted to maintain were strong enough to rely solely on the in-person relationships I had with those friends, and that wasn't a problem either.

Besides social networks, I had to identify other causes of dukkha– the things that bring me dissatisfaction – in my life. In World Buddhisms, my teacher explained the Four Noble Truths to the class, arranging them on a square table divided into four segments. Although I suppose this table was intended to offer a memorization tip, I found that the equality of these squares which contained the Four Noble Truths also had a metaphorical precision: each of the truths builds on the others and are therefore equal to each other. in importance.

For example, the cause of dukkha is one of the same with dukkha, with nirvana and with the cause of nirvana. To achieve nirvana you must experience, understand and work dukkha. And by experimenting dukkhayou are trying to achieve nirvana (perhaps without knowing it), in the sense that you want to be free from suffering.

Since all human beings want to be happy and no one wants to suffer, and the Four Noble Truths are equally important, the next thing to understand is how to realize any of these truths. We can study the cause of dukkha through articles and stories, but only reach a superficial understandingn. Only by living focusing on the cause of dukkha can we really understand it.

It wasn't until my teacher introduced us to two Buddhist readings that I began to think more deeply about how this topic related to my relationship with my smartphone. The first was that of Mingyur Rinpoche Lovers of the world. The second, a children's book entitled Shantideva: How to awaken a hero.

The passage from Rinpoche's book explains the Tibetan saying about adding wood to the fire. Adding wood to the fire is when someone gradually introduces difficulties into their life with the intention of overcoming them. This is a distinct approach from the seemingly simpler decision to avoid difficult situations. The children's book explains how an emotion, for example anger, controls people. They use the example of an angry monk attacking another person with a stick – the way the person would not usually be angry at the stick demonstrates that they should not be angry at the monk either, but rather understand that anger commands the monk.

This got me thinking about the roots of my dissatisfaction with all the worldly things I mentioned previously. In other words, I began to think about my emotional attachments to each of the things in my life that were causing me dissatisfaction and how to confront these problems.

I didn't quite understand it at first. I assumed that a major cause of dukkha for me, it was that I was too focused on my perception of myself and that by getting rid of my smartphone, I would be forced to live in the moment and become more intimate with my own thoughts, instead to focus on creating an image of myself.

While it's true that I was concerned about my reputation, I tried to desensitize myself to it by letting go of distractions and forcing myself to confront the problem. Maybe it was a good first step, but I had the assumption it would end there. Now I understand that desensitization was just part of a puzzle that I was going to piece together to deal with this self-image insecurity.

I tried to think introspectively, realizing that my phone offered me the opportunity to filter my raw emotions. Having my smartphone has allowed me to saturate myself and focus on a single emotion, instead of feeling everything as it naturally occurs. Hiking the trails without a phone, and therefore without music, I learned that a rainy day doesn't have to be gloomy. This was news to me. Before I gave up my phone, I hoped for solemnity to accompany cold, gray days by listening to sad music while walking to my classes or engaging in a culture of aesthetic sadness cultivated on social media.

Of course, because I have arranged my situation to reflect sadness, I to become sad, but I've never been inherently dark. As I walked the aisles of my boarding school without my phone, I enjoyed the small, gentle impact of each droplet of cold rain that fell on me and the way the sun still lit up the sky despite being smothered by thick clouds .

Ditching my smartphone allowed me to achieve a new level of emotional and practical clarity. I can't say that I found the cause of dukkha again, neither one of the Four Noble Truths, but I can say that this exercise has significantly improved my quality of life. Adding wood to the fire is something I will continue to practice in my daily life. And I recommend everyone reading to try it too!

photo of author

Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

Leave comments