The actor Ethan Hawke recently told the New York Times Book Review, “what I love most about my profession [is] that in the endeavor to be a better actor—more present, more awake, more compassionate, more spontaneous—you are actually teaching yourself to be a more fully realized version of yourself.”
Consciousness-raising opportunities are everywhere. Yet these days, the immediate gratification provided by our mobile devices may thwart our attempts to be fully present. Even in places designed for escapism—cinemas, theaters, concert venues, yoga studios, etc.—attendees seem unable to disconnect. As another New York Times piece conveyed, we have become “addicted to distraction.”
Kathy Nelsen has witnessed this firsthand. Kathy, the Spa Director at various San Francisco luxury properties, has traveled the world seeking the waters, the beauty, and the serenity of other cultures and their bathing rituals to create a paradigm for the spa experience in the San Francisco Bay Area. Circumstances recently compelled her to remind bathers at the Kabuki Springs & Spa to “switch off and be present.”
Brent: Your spas are meant to be oases of serenity, yet it seems that some guests are taking their devices into indoor communal bathing areas.
Kathy: We have stepped up our messaging to remind visitors to disconnect and decompress. Our goal is to be a destination for relaxation. Part of our challenge in the baths is that every device now has a camera, and that is a concern. So, we tried to come at the issue with a slightly higher purpose.
Brent: Do you agree that we have become addicted to distraction?
Kathy: People are so attached to their phones; it is frightening how they cannot be without for an hour. Other guests get very annoyed when someone is talking or even texting. No one wants to overhear someone else’s work-related phone call inside our sanctuary.
Brent: Rightly so! So you sent out a mass email and emphasized how imperative it is to leave devices in the lockers.
Kathy: We tried sending an email a couple of years ago about the “electronic waves,” and that did not get as big a response as this.
Brent: What is different this time?
Kathy: I feel adamant, and my staff all knows this, that we need to be a place where you can tune out all of the constant information coming at you. It’s only increased. Therefore, there is very little signage here, but people still don’t want to read. We ask each guest to turn off all electronics, but it just doesn’t always work.
Brent: Do you think it’s because San Francisco these days is the Tech Hub?
Kathy: I am afraid many of the younger techies in San Francisco do not even know they have a body. I recently was in a no Wi-Fi area for a few days, and it was kind of remarkable once I gave in to it. I feel like we all need a retreat occasionally, if only to see how attached we are.
Brent: I completely agree with you. I know that some bars host “digital detox parties,” where attendees must surrender their phones at the door. At first, some people experience severe separation anxiety, but then they lighten up and focus on each other.
Kathy: What a wonderful idea!
Brent: How are your visitors expressing their annoyance at the device users?
Kathy: Our front desk staff receives emails from guests asking them to be more aggressive about reminding people not to text or talk in the common areas. Our attendants are constantly roaming about to monitor, but they aren’t always comfortable confronting someone using a phone in a common area. English may not be their first language, and confrontation may not be part of their culture.
Brent: Many of us struggle to find the most effective way to let someone using a device know that their behavior is disruptive. What’s the most creative approach you’ve seen?
Kathy: My favorite example actually appeared online. I loved a Craigslist personal we saw recently that went something like this: “You were the handsome guy at Kabuki on Monday at 5:00. Thank you for completely disrupting my calm when you could not even wait 10 minutes to get outside to order your noodles.” It started like a sexy call, and ended calling him out. We loved it.
Brent: Very clever! Thank you for championing a device-free spa.
Below you’ll find the full text of Kathy’s email. When you are in the Bay Area, treat yourself to high-quality relaxation at some of the spas Kathy has opened: Indian Springs in Calistoga, the Claremont Spa in Oakland, and Kabuki Springs & Spa in San Francisco.
Switching Off and Being Present
We live with our electronic devices within reach: cellphones, smart watches and tablets. It is the way we communicate with each other, constantly searching, looking for updates, always peering for something new. We and our devices are always on. With our attentions drawn to an illuminated screen, our minds are not focused on ourselves. We are less aware of simple body needs: rest, hunger, thirst, human contact.
In order for us to positively contribute to our own lives and to those of others, our bodies need to be healthy and present. Our physical bodies need to re-energize while our minds need to reset. Many of our guests choose to visit our communal bathing area for this sole purpose. Some have created and cultivated their personal rituals for relaxing, while others are starting their way to wellness.
We try to honor the silence of our space to allow our guests the time to decompress from busy city life. We ask that you do, also, by switching off your digital connections before entering our sanctuary. You might be pleasantly surprised at the deeper level of relaxation you can achieve by not allowing the distractions of the digital device.
Please join us in disconnecting and decompressing.
Peace and Namaste,