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Lately, my right thumb has been feeling sore. While I’d love to tell you that all the writing that I did for my oceanography final is to blame, my thumb really hurts from scrolling incessantly through emails, tweets and Instagrams on my battered iPhone 4.

Aside from the 10 blissful minutes I spend in the shower every day, my phone is never more than an arm’s reach away. It’s my alarm clock, watch, camera, calendar, mailbox, newspaper, notebook and television set. I even thumbed most of this column on my phone.

Last Monday, as I scrolled through my phone on the first floor of Van Pelt Library, I came across a tweet from Weigle Information Commons. It read, “Breathing room open! Help us spread the word.”

I was immediately intrigued. What was the breathing room? Was it the outdoor terrace on the sixth floor? A new study space? I clicked on the accompanying link fully expecting to find an image of a glass-encased room kitted with oxygen tanks. Instead, I was directed to a poster advertising guided meditation study breaks that were currently being held on the second floor.

In a likely effort to entice students like myself who were at the library to listen to a semester’s worth of lecture recordings in one day, the poster made it clear that you could “Stay for a minute or settle in for a while. Enhance your focus, attention and efficiency.”

Fair enough, I thought. I stuffed my phone in my back pocket and bolted up the stairs. I wasn’t feeling particularly stressed out, but like any day, there were around 897 thoughts bouncing around my head. My ears were getting itchy, and I was having trouble concentrating on my professor’s passionate tirade against people who don’t believe in climate change.

No one else showed up to meditate, but Nathaniel — a friendly, pink-shirted social worker from Counseling and Psychological Services — didn’t seem to mind. He gently shut the door and asked me to sit back, close my eyes and listen to what was around me.

I felt self-conscious as Nathaniel named the obvious surrounding sounds: a student’s muffled conversation and a book cart skidding past the carpeted hallway. But after a while, I started to take stock of my surroundings. Nathaniel asked me to confine my thoughts to the present moment. As I sat in silence, he occasionally repeated the mantra:

“This place. Only place.”

“This time. Only time.”

The phrases struck me as corny at first. Then, I started to relax. I forgot about oxygen isotopes and benthic sea creatures. For a whole minute, I stopped worrying about how I was going to keep in touch with people I care about when I moved 8,091 miles away.

“This place. Only place.”

I’ve always struggled to be in one place at a time. In 2009, I unpacked my global baggage into a 9-by-10-foot box in Hill College House. I had a British passport and an American accent. I spoke fluent Chinese, but I wasn’t really Chinese. I had an Indian name, but I wasn’t really Indian. I grew up in Hong Kong, went to high school in England and somehow found myself in Philadelphia. Mentally, I occupied all these geographic spaces and more.

At Penn, I was often in two places at once. I became the English major who also worked 40 hours a week. The girlfriend who was also the best friend. (I’m not complaining about that one, Brent.)

“This time. Only time.”

I spent most of my time preoccupied with tomorrow’s issue of The Daily Pennsylvanian, next week’s midterm or what to do come May 13, 2013.

But there were also hours when I found myself firmly in the present moment. This often happened when I stopped checking my phone. Usually, it involved laughing with friends or staring at a Word document, trying to assemble the right words in the right order.

So to my parents, my sister, the friends I made between 4015 Walnut and 4045 Sansom — thank you.

I’ve learned that having a Twitter account can lead to good things, but that I should probably be more detached from my phone. It’s all about striking the right balance so we don’t forget this time, this place.

Anjali Tsui is a College senior and former opinion editor, campus news editor and staff writer from Hong Kong. Anjali is moving back home to work at CNN International. Her email address is

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