LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
The amount of time people spend on digital devices is soaring to the point that several countries are treating Internet addiction as a public health crisis. According to one survey, the average American adult spends nearly six hours a day on a smartphone. As people struggle to deal with their distracting devices, James Socolovsky reports on a group turning to Buddhism for more mindful approach.
JEROME SOCOLOVSKY, BYLINE: About 15 people are seated on the floor of the All Beings Zen Sangha worship space in an apartment building in Washington, D.C.
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting in Japanese).
SOCOLOVKSY: They recite a Japanese chant known as the ten-phrase, life-prolonging Kannon Sutra and extol the teachings of the Buddhist sages.
MARK STONE: (Singing) Heart of great and perfect wisdom sutra.
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SOCOLOVKSY: And then they meditate for a full 30 minutes.
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SOCOLOVKSY: It's completely silent - save for the air conditioning - until Mark Stone, one of the leaders, speaks.
STONE: If you could take out your screens - stay on them for 12 minutes doing what you usually do.
SOCOLOVKSY: During this screen-use workshop, participants stay in meditation pose while sending texts on their phones and checking in on social media. Stone, a retired economist, urges them to follow Buddhist principles, such as mindfulness and intentionality when they're online. He tells them to be aware of their posture and take deep breaths. What's been really helpful for him...
STONE: ...Is, when I pick up my screen, think about my intention. Why I'm enjoying this?
SOCOLOVKSY: He also recommends setting aside devices for phone-free meals and longer digital fasts. At the end of the 12 minutes on their devices, Stone has a request.
STONE: Anybody like to share how that was for them, to use the screen and then to sit, pause, take it all in?
CARLOS MOURA: I did notice afterwards that it really wasn't - that I was focused, but I really wasn't aware of you all. You know, it's, like, you weren't there at all.
LESLIE COHEN: I just physically noticed that my head really hurt.
SOCOLOVKSY: Carlos Moura and Leslie Cohen are among the people taking part in the screen mindfulness workshop. Afterward, Cohen, a tourist from San Diego, says the chance to turn off is what brought her here.
COHEN: We were in, like, Ocean City. And just - you know, the TV was on. The kids were on their screens. And I had a moment of, like, I've got to find a place to meditate as soon as I get to Washington, D.C.
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SOCOLOVKSY: A meditation session begins at a different Buddhist center a few miles away. Bhante Dhammasiri, who was born in Sri Lanka, is the chief monk of the Theravadic Washington Buddhist Vihara or monastery. He's lived in this country for 32 years, long enough, he says, to watch a society become hooked on screens.
BHANTE DHAMMASIRI: What we see today - they don't live the life. They forget to live the life because they are addicted to cellphone, especially cellphones.
SOCOLOVKSY: He has a cellphone, which he says a devotee gave him but uses it mainly for calls and as a calendar. And he likes the convenience of the flashlight. But he won't go on Facebook or other social media platforms because...
DHAMMASIRI: You are never getting satisfied. You will waste your whole precious time.
SOCOLOVKSY: These devices may promise happiness and fulfillment but, the monk says, it's just an illusion. For NPR News, I'm Jerome Socolovsky in Washington.
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