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On Putting Your Phone Away and Being With Yourself

in Yogitorials

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.

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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.



8 comments… add one
  • Oz

    This is a rather astonishing statement:

    “It’s not reasonable to expect we can all live without cell phones”

    Well, humans lived without them for upwards of 250,000 years, so to state otherwise seems, well, just wrong. Of course we can live without cell phones. I can attest to this, inasmuch as I manage to make do without one. And I think it’s not only reasonable, but quite a good idea, especially given the research that is beginning to come out now regarding the dreadful impacts of too much ‘connection.’ More about that in this fabulous TED talk:


  • Amanda

    Love the post and really like that Louis CK (of all people, plus more of a regular person not some guru celebrity) of how we need to be w/ ourselves & emotions. I admit at times I turn to technology more bc I have a 4 hr commute to NYC everyday which most peeps don’t have so much time to themselves. I have come to enjoy this time more and more over the years (5 & counting). Even using guided meditation apps now (calm.com I recommend)! But learning more to sit w/ feelings and move through them is becoming part of my practice beyond the yoga mat.

  • Rainbow Patchouli Bracelet

    I was visiting my sister and brother in law this summer. Neither of them use a cell phone. They have a trac phone they will bring out once in a while, like on a trip. Anyway, after a few days, I lost power on my phone, and just decided I would not recharge it and see what happened– they have a landline if anyone really needed me. A day or two went by, then a week. It was awesome. I had the feeling of ‘remembering’ so much about how fun it is to just sit outside and do nothing. I also started talking with them a lot more, and doing other things, like walking around the neighborhood more.

    I want to thank CK for this, because my 13 year old son is so pressing to get a phone. We have resisted for various reasons, but his point about empathy and how that is learned, is really important. As is the emptiness, but I think that is more for us adults.

    I do find myself looking at people in crowds, out on the streets, and wondering, what has been unleashed here? I think CK nails it with pointing out that people have struck a deal for being stuck in the bland middle. We live in a polarity. You can’t have happy w/o the deep sad, and I saw it so clearly with a niece that came and stayed with us this summer. 18 years old, free and about to go to college, she should be just loving it, but was so stuck with her head in the phone that she was a closed shop of blah. Nothing up and nothing down. Once we got her to unplug, she opened up a lot more, even had some drama 🙂

  • Love this! I couldn’t have said it better. I kept trying to find the words but failed every time. Instead I reference this lovely post on my blog http://sweatthroughit.blogspot.com/

    When/if I have children some day I hope to have the insight Louis has. Raising his children to be the adults he wants them to be. Brilliant.

  • Katherine

    I am a high school teacher, and I struggle constantly with the addiction my students have to their cell phones. They no longer talk to each other, they text. It is next to impossible to get them to put the phones away for more than 10 minutes. Walking down the hallways is a hazard, as they’re walking and texting at the same time. Someone stole my phone last week, and I’m finding it very freeing. I may replace my phone with a basic, not so smart phone!

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