Recently I read an article in the New York Times* that chronicled the adventures of five eminent neuroscientists who spent a week camping “off the grid” in southern Utah- no laptops, no cellphones, just gear and a guide. In between rafting and hiking excursions, these academics discussed how the compulsive use of digital technology affects our learning, memory and decision-making abilities and whether we should give our brains an occasional vacation. Like me, you probably don’t have any trips to the back of beyond in your near future, no forced retreat from the demands of your digital technology addiction. You must grasp those moments of peace and tune in, turn on to what you can access with your five senses, not with a wireless connection.
Let me offer you a simple exercise, an antidote to the rush and whirl of the daily digital grind. We’ll call it “Mindfulness in a Glass. “
Disconnect the phone, turn off the computer and the HiDef whatsit (it’s all right to have Cassandra Wilson or David Gray playing softly in the background). Pour yourself a glass of wine and settle in.
Tilt that glass to the light and consider the wine’s color and intensity. It may be the pale lemon of verdejo, or the deep purple of syrah. Notice how the light reflects the brilliant clarity of youth or the rich warmth of age. Now, gently swirl the wine and stick your nose deep in the bowl of the glass. Inhale. Savor. You may be transported to an orchard of ripe peaches or a meadow of violets, or find yourself tangled in a thicket of blackberries. Inhale again and let almond blossoms or freshly-mown hay tickle childhood memories, allow the lavender and tobacco to take you to warm and distant lands.
Take a generous sip and let the wine spread throughout your mouth, coating your teeth and tongue. Close your eyes and be seduced by the musky mango of Spätlese or the rosewater-laced cherry jam of Barolo. Imagine the forces that combined to create this moment of quiet pleasure; the millennia of floods and glaciers, the seasons of sun and rain, the labor of planting and harvest, the passion of the winemaker, the volatility of chemistry, and the patience of the cellar.
Richard Feynman, Nobel Laureate in physics, once said “if we look at a glass [of wine] closely enough, we can see the whole universe.” We might think we hold the universe in our iPhones; a glass of wine reminds us that by savoring unplugged time, we can discover a universe of far more real and satisfying pleasures.