by Kelly Barrett
“Underneath everything in your life, there’s that thing, that empty–forever empty, you know what I’m talking about? That knowledge, it’s down there….And sometimes when things clear away and you’re in your car…you start freaking out like…I’m alone…” – Louis CK
There’s a Conan O’Brien segment with Louis CK that’s making its rounds on the Internet, for good reason. Conan asks him why he refuses to let his daughters get cell phones and Louis launches into a beautiful explanation wrapped up in all sorts of life truths and important words of wisdom about essentially, as he puts it, “being a person.” Beneath the jokes, there’s a very real lesson he shares about how much we can actually damage our connection with ourselves by reaching for virtual, somewhat fabricated connections with others.
When I first watched it, I thought back to a couple of years ago, when my sister and I were about to set out on a 15-hour, one-day drive from Washington, D.C. to Florida with a puppy and she turned to me to have a very stern conversation.
“I’m going to seriously need your help today.” She was driving. I was the navigator.
I responded defensively. “Right, I’ll use Google maps. On my phone.”
That was sort of the problem, she said. I lived inside my phone. I lived in social media land where snapping the next retweetable Twitpic was more important than watching the road signs. “I know what’s going to happen. You’re going to get on your phone and stop paying attention. I need you to actually be here.”
I’d had no idea just how bad I was about using my phone. I still struggle with it now, and I know I’m not alone. It’s a compulsion, a crutch, a pacifier for adults. A moment of quiet, a moment of doing nothing and what do we do? Check our phones. There must be something on our phones to fill that moment, to fill ourselves.
This past spring I completed my yoga teacher training over the course of 12 weekends. We spent every Saturday and Sunday in the studio, reading, practicing, teaching, talking about yoga. It was fantastic. I brought a notebook and a pen and my mat and kept my phone in my bag tucked away and it was one of the most freeing things. We all grew incredibly close in that short length of time, with just us in that room.
When I saw that Louis CK clip, I immediately emailed it to my fellow trainees. This “empty forever” he’s talking about, I said, it’s kind of like the true self. It’s kind of like that part of us all that’s at our core, that goes by different names to different people, that part that never changes. We all have it.
I think the biggest lessons we all learned in that training were about ourselves—how we experience pain, loss, frustration, boredom, joy—and how we work through those moments by actually experiencing them, not avoiding them. And most of all, I think we learned how it’s actually a beautiful thing to experience all of that.
For me, meditation continues to be the hardest part of my yoga practice. Teachers have mentioned it before: forget handstands and crazy bendy postures—just sitting quietly is the hardest pose of all. And I think it’s hard because there we are, hanging out alone, facing ourselves.
It’s not reasonable to expect we can all live without cell phones and really that isn’t the point. But what yoga gives us the chance to do is to spend more time hanging out with ourselves. It gives us the chance to question if we’re reaching for our phones for something we already have inside us.
I’m sure my sister doesn’t know this but I think of that conversation she and I had a lot, the time she basically begged me to just be present on our long drive. We got home safely very late that night. Near the end, she was exhausted so I took over the driver’s seat for the last couple hours. Phone tucked away, eyes on the road.
Kelly Barrett is a PR professional and yoga teacher living in Washington, D.C. She completed her 200-hour teacher training in the spring of 2013 after spending years falling in love with the transformative quality of yoga. Kelly also writes about her experiences with yoga at her personal blog, nomnomnamaste.tumblr.com.