Young Voices: On my life as a high school student without a smartphone

- through Francois Leclercq

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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. Inspired by and running 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.

Leo Peters wrote this essay for his “World Buddhisms” course at Phillips Andover, a high school in Massachusetts.

On my life as a high school student without a smartphone

Even from outside I could hear the raucous sound of people chatting and laughing with their friends. I knew I didn't want to go into the cafeteria right now, by myself, not knowing who I was going to sit with. I wanted to text someone and find out where they were first. But I didn't take out my phone. I didn't turn around. Instead, I walked into the room.

“High school is a great time for packs,” writes Clare Sestavonich in her novel Objects of desire. “Everyone is weak; everyone wants strength in numbers.

For me, this seems especially true in my high school cafeteria, where being alone can be almost scary. No one wants to sit alone; everyone wants to find their pack.

But today I couldn't find my bag. I felt anxious, like I was in danger. I was afraid of walking into the cafeteria and not having anyone to sit with. I was afraid that I would have to sit by myself and when others saw me, they would judge me. Normally, when I'm scared (or tired, bored, or angry), I can pull out my phone to distract myself or even find someone to talk to. This time I couldn't do anything. I didn't have my phone at all because I left it behind for my Global Buddhism class, in an effort to examine my relationship with my emotions. With no other choice, I was forced to confront my anxiety head-on.

I entered the cafeteria and stood in line. While I normally used my phone while waiting in line, this time I talked to the people around me. Then, after eating, I entered the sea of ​​chairs and tables. Eventually, I found people I knew well enough to sit down with. Since I couldn't use my phone, I was also forced to sit with my anxiety. After a while, when nothing bad had happened, I realized that even my anxiety was something I could sit with. Better yet, I could learn to cope quite well; I didn't have to avoid him all the time.

Around the same time that I was abandoning my phone to go to class, I was learning the importance in Buddhism of approaching our pain or discomfort in a way that would not replicate those feelings. For example, in his book Lovers of the world (Random House, 2019), Tibetan Buddhist monk Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche describes how people normally avoid situations that frighten them, such as large crowds or heights. However, Rinpoche observes, “the causes that provoke these responses do not disappear; and when we find ourselves in these situations, our reactions can overwhelm us. (Mingyur Rinpoche 5)

He continues: “Using our inner resources to solve these problems is our only real protection, because external circumstances change all the time and are therefore unreliable. » (Mingyur Rinpoche 5) Rinpoche's observation is essentially that we cannot control our environment; we can only control how we relate to it. Therefore, whether or not we continue to suffer ultimately depends on our own internal attitudes.

This in turn explains the central importance in Buddhism of learning to better understand our suffering through actual practice. Rinpoche writes: “Tibetans have a word for deliberately the challenge of maintaining a stable mind: adding wood to the fire. » (Mingyur Rinpoche 5) Giving up my phone was my own way of adding fuel to my fire. I challenged myself to face my fears: of being judged, of being alone, of being too anxious. Instead of avoiding the situations I feared – and thus perpetuating my suffering because I couldn't always avoid them – I confronted them directly. In doing so, I realized that the situations I feared weren't so serious. Most importantly, every time I didn't take out my phone (since I couldn't), but stayed where I was, it reminded me that I had the ability to cope with whatever was happening. I could decide how to react.

It's now been over seven weeks since I stopped using my phone and I don't want it back. On the one hand, giving up my phone made me more aware of my surroundings, other people, and my own emotions. But more than that, it taught me that I can choose my relationship to all these things. Instead of relating to others or my own emotions with fear or avoidance, I can interact with them with awareness and calm. By giving up my phone, I decided to stop distracting myself from my own suffering, from my own life. Instead, I choose to approach my life in a more constructive way. I choose to live it fully.

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.

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