I’m from the generation that has seen the greatest transition of offline to online.
… That’s probably what my mom and grandma would say, too. Smartphones are a mind-boggling invention to mom, whose childhood didn’t feature telephones. Netflix is a miracle for grandma who grew up without TV.
I’m a self-proclaimed technophobe. The one with the most outdated smartphone model in the room and writes in a leather-bound diary instead of EverNote: that ‘Crossing the Chasm’ laggard is me.
The day I had to go from writing essays in ink to uploading Microsoft Word files into plagiarism checkers was when it really hit me: computers are a necessity I will not, from now on, be able to live without.
Technological advancement isn’t new. What is new, is the speed of digitalisation. Everything is going online at an unprecedented, desperate rate in the midst of the pandemic. Work, conferences, supermarkets; everything that can (and even those that can’t) is going online.
One consequence digitalisation has had, amongst many others, is reshaping my relationship with my body.
As a child, I experienced the world wholly through the body. Running, smelling, using my hands; I explored environments in a constant engagement of all the wonderful, varied sensations my body was capable of.
As I started running less and sitting more, drawing less and typing more, working and living increasingly in a virtual world, my body became a mere vessel for the mind. Once in a while, I’d remember my body when it was inconveniencing me with hunger and fatigue, interrupting work on a presentation or enjoyment of a Netflix episode.
This subservience of body to mind only worsened as I joined a tech company, and virtuality was all of my working life. The rift between body and mind grew larger.
In November 2019, I attended a pottery course.
It was hard.
Clay on the wheel is unforgivingly honest. If I’m distracted, stressed or frustrated, the clay immediately lets me know by flopping off to the side.
There was no way I could ‘think’ my clay into the shape I was envisioning. Quite the opposite. The moment I thought ‘this isn’t working out’, the ensuing feeling of frustration would be triggered and my body would express it through my hands tensing up.
I spent 5 lessons repeating the first basic shape: a cup. Students normally spend just 2, but I learned so much more than just a shape.
In those lessons, the immediate feedback from my clay made it painfully clear; there was no separation between mind and body. Thoughts never occur in isolation, but rather in constellations: a thought will have an accompanying emotion and sensation, and there is no way of separating them. What is anger? The experience of anger is complete only in combining the thought “I’m furious”, a hot emotion, the body rigid with cheeks flushed and jaw clenched.
Making all those cups reconnected me to my hands in a way that I’d unknowingly neglected for years. I felt like I was returning to the rich sensory world of my childhood.
Once I started to experience the clay through my hands, working and trusting my senses instead of muscling through with thinking, I finally made a decent cup.
I even made a bowl. I call it ‘souper trooper’.
Stepping away from the mind-powered virtual world and returning to the physical one of senses, brings me back to a natural internal balance. The deafening mental chatter is soothed by quiet joys found in simple, repetitive acts in working with my hands.
With so much time at home, it is a conscious choice to put aside my gadgets and carve out time for non-digital hobbies that bring me back to my body. These days I’m baking ugly breads, using my hands in craft projects and attempting to grow lettuce on the kitchen counter. The world outside is raging but at least here, with my hands and my lettuce, this is concrete, this is real and I can feel grounded at least for now.