The Power of Being Present

This past weekend, I traveled to Salem, MO to go camping and floating with several close friends. As we sat around the campfire, one of them admitted, that, though it may sound weird, he loved going out there because there wasn’t any cell service.

When he said that, I didn’t find it weird at all.

I struggle to live in the present. Obviously, that has implications for my abilities as an improviser – an inability to avoid pre-planning, follow the fun, and find joy in each scene.

Having my cell phone – a device that’s sole purpose is to escape the present via social media and text messages – is damaging. I hate every part of camping except the fact that I don’t have cell service. It forces to me to engage with the people around me and live in the moment.

I know it seems like a silly first world problem. I suppose I’m lucky to even have a phone. And if it’s too much of a burden, I could silence or airplane mode it when I’m out with friends. But it’s easier said than done.

I have an addiction, one many of us share. Unless physically prevented to by the wilderness, it’s too tempting to hit the circular center button.

On the most recent episode of WTF with Marc Maron, he and his guest, Chris Hayes, were discussing the very same issue. Marc said the following:

“If I set my phone down for a few minutes, I get an existential terror…do you take time…Just to feel silence and the tactile sensations of your hand on a wheel and just knowing that the vessel you’re occupying is temporary.”

An existential terror. It runs deeper than a mere curiosity of what’s going on around us. The desire to check our phone, the dread we feel when we don’t, isn’t a lack of willpower – it’s something much stronger.

At the risk of sounding like my father, there’s no reason to use our phones when we’re out at all unless in the case of an emergency. People haven’t even had phones but for the last ten years, and they managed.

Checking our phones when we’re out with others fuels a cycle of belief that where we are right now isn’t good enough. Our phone is a portal into a world where everything is better. We’re constantly chasing a white whale. We don’t take time, as Maron says, to feel the tactile sensations of your hand on a wheel.

I have a lot of trouble not thinking about the future, wishing it would come faster, convinced that something better is right around the corner. And just like that dumb song, tomorrow never comes. The future is never better than the present. I am always let down because expectations don’t meet reality.

The problem isn’t the reality, though. It’s me. It’s my expectations. If I could just take stock in the present, enjoy it for what it is; I’d realize that the future was just as enjoyable.

So I’m making a pledge. For the next 30 days, I am going to set up a swear jar, except it’ll be a phone jar. Any time I’m out with friends, if I take out my phone for anything other than an emergency (or if someone directly asks me to), I’ll put a dollar in the jar. At the end of 30 days, I’ll donate the money to charity…maybe one that gives cell phones to kids in need (kidding!). I don’t know how the experiment will go, but my guess is that by the end, I’ll feel a little less digitally connected and a little more connected to my friends and surroundings. I have a feeling it’ll make me a better scene partner and, hopefully, a little better at enjoying this weird thing called life.


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