Updated: Feb 14, 2019
So the goal of the weekend was to unplug to replug.
No work, no phone or internet, no people: 48 hours off grid of reading and journaling. I had arranged to have Stephen take my phone to manage business needs, and I kept a burner phone for emergencies only. Two days in a cabin, no distractions, an opportunity to try to be present.
I realized about 18 hours in that this 48 hours is rare in the context of my life...I was relieved of many of the demands of phone, business and the addiction of it all. Perhaps it was a result of the exercise itself, but I decided to pivot the modest experiment from 48 hours of solitude towards sharing undistracted time with my wife and kids, so I left the cabin early to be with them.
The decision was great to be with my family without the regular burdens. That said, time alone was amazing too...I read a lot, tried to be super present in the things I was doing (like folding an air mattress or looking at the ridgeline view) and I journaled a lot (I’ve never journaled). I thought the experience delivered an ROI. I thought I’d share the journaling in the event it falls somewhere between useful and entertaining, and for me I guess sharing my thoughts is part of the process, the point of it all. It’s 16 pages of furiously written stream of consciousness, what I like to refer to as thought barf. (It’s hard to write as quickly as you think, so I wrote fast and tried to slow my thoughts. Journaling, simply, is an exercise worth experimenting with - in fact I bought a notebook to keep in my man-purse so I can start the habit.) In my thought barf, there is also a letter to my wife.
48 hours may not seem like a long time to be without the internet, but to offer context: As a green professional in the mid 2000s, I had to do things to make myself stand out in a well marinated world of available real estate professionals. One of the things I knew I could do, that not everyone was willing to do, was to be available 24/7/365. Christmas day, Thanksgiving, Easter, days people weren’t working were days I got to catch up and stand out and that habit has persisted and gone down it’s own rabbit hole. The only reason I missed a call was because I was on another call. Since the smart phone debuted in 2007, it’s become an extension of me. It’s the first step towards fully integrating with a machine (sounds crazy? Think hard about it). At dinner, I’m checking my phone. With my kids, checking my phone. Canceled the paper, news is on my phone. Ordering groceries? From my phone! Professional responsibilities bled into distractions and back. Trying to meditate, be present and reorient in a positive way...there’s an app on my phone.
I was inspired by a series of motivational books, podcasts and biographical stories to seek clarity on what my goals are and how to achieve them. I wanted to offer my conscious and subconscious an opportunity to focus without the inputs of my “dailies”. I knew that to do this, I’d have to put myself in a new position...if we do the same, we expect the same...so to give myself an opportunity to explore the mind grapes in my noggin, I thought the modest experiment of 48 hours in solitude, in nature, would be a good easing in.
I dropped my phone off for the weekend with a friend and immediately felt a feeling of missing something. As a kid I’d ride my bike miles with quarters in my pockets for a payphone emergency. That felt free. Not having my cell phone felt not free at all. I felt out of control of my work, my social life, my family, I was out of my habit of knowing what’s up all the time.
I pulled into the cabin and it was pitch dark, about 30 degrees outside but mercifully the cabin was warm enough and right away I started a fire in the little, adorable wood stove. I unpacked my two days worth of crap and set it free in the 15x10 cabin floor and shoved it aside to make room for my air mattress. I read and wrote until I couldn’t keep my eyes open and dropped to sleep, literally, to the floor. Three times I woke up to the air mattress deflated beneath me and found myself laying on the floor, each time I located what I thought was the culprit leak, repaired it, and went back to sleep. Not a great night sleep, but not the worst. The wake ups gave me cause to look out the window at a clear night, lit by stars and the moon...every sound was an organic one. I had no reason to sleep well as the following day would be more reading and writing, and in that thought, rather than being upset my sleep was disturbed, I noticed the sights and sounds...and the dark silhouette of a mounted 10 point buck I had forgotten was there.
Morning: As distractions were limited, relatively, I was able to be more aware of my patterns. I observed that I do a lot of things with urgency. I had just finished my breakfast, a banana with peanut butter, it took me about 90 seconds to prepare, consume and dispose of any evidence breakfast had been had. I asked myself “what just happened”? I was reminded of Jesse Itzler’s book “Living with the Monks”, where Jesse lived with Russian Orthodox monks for 15 days, he at one point faced doing 100s of dishes. Expressing his concern, being intimidated by the amount of work ahead of him, he asked a monk “How am I supposed to do all these dishes?” and the Monk replied, “You don’t have to clean all the dishes, just the one in your hand.” That resonated with me, so rather than think about the quintillions of things to think about, I tried to think about just what it was I was doing in that moment. I mean, I had hours of no plans but to journal and write, I had a lot of moments in front of me.
I started with simply looking at the view...I thought “Wow, this is amazing, I’m so fortunate to...what’s that sound? I wonder what my kids are doing? That banana is giving me a cramp? I better get to work, shut up mind, take a breather….it’s ok, be here now, look at the view, it’s gorgeous...it’s cold out here, I’m gonna go back inside…”...Monkey mind.
During one break, I walked the length of the driveway and back. It was a brisk walk that ended quickly in the context of staring down the barrel of being on the property for another day and a half, so I decided to do another lap, but this time with more intention. At one point I stopped to look at a stream I had paid little mind to on the first lap...I listened to it, watched it, walked around it a little, just observing it, acknowledging it. Then I counted the steps it took to walk the length of the driveway. 1,033 steps. It takes concentration to keep an accurate count...several times I’d find my mind wandering and have to stop and think hard about where I was in the count. I opined that maybe being a mom is like being any other human, with their to-do lists, but unlike other humans, moms are always trying to keep count in their head...and that sounds exhausting. (Moms are superheros...but also human, give them an opportunity to stop keeping count for a while)
It was during the walk I realized the special nature of the weekend. Since I entered the workforce, the phone has been a daily (DAILY!? MAYBE HOURLY!) part of my professional and social life...the pride I feel having created the habit of going into “Airplane Mode” at 8pm each night was a huge accomplishment. That seems pretty stupid for a huge accomplishment, nonetheless it’s a little move in the right direction. The direction is simply being more present in my life, taking time to relieve myself of distractions, and give my whole self away...to myself , to the task at hand and most importantly to my family and friends.
Having a silent retreat in the woods isn’t necessary, but I found for me it was an effective use of time and I learned so much being there. I will do it again, maybe for a full 48 hours, maybe for a week. The next time I plan it though, I’ll plan to spend that same quality, focused, unburdened time with my family. The action steps I’ll take away from the experience is making a daily practice of minimizing distractions, working to reduce urgency in the completion of even m mundane tasks and focus on doing the task effectively, to make journaling a regular practice and to be far more aware of where my attention is when I am home.
One thing I did learn for sure is I was away from the world as I know it for 48 hours and while I was gone the world kept spinning. I can afford to spend more quality time doing the things I love with the people I love.