Life: Unplugged

For me, the natural world has always been a place of peace.  Life seems to slow down a little in the countryside; there is no hurry, everything is right where it is supposed to be, doing what it is supposed to do.  So when it came time to plan a summer vacation this year, I got very excited at the prospect of spending two weeks in the Wyoming mountains with friends and family.

During the trip, we spent our first few nights camping.  Now, Wyoming camping is different from other camping I've done.  There is no concrete slab for your RV, a site for your tent, a water faucet, or a rusty old grill that has seen its fair share of hot dogs.  There is you, your tent, and the land.  Perhaps a frightening prospect at first glance, but after two days of eating sandwiches, sitting around a fire, and swimming in the lake it hit us.  Peace.  Quiet.  Stillness.  This is what we had come for.  And then another remarkable realization occurred; I hadn't looked at my smartphone in over 24 hours.  In fact, it was dead.

Hmm, could these two things be related?

My phone, as is common these days, is my lifeline.  I text with just about everyone I know, I use it for work, the map application has saved me from getting lost more times than I could ever count, my calendar is saved on it, all my emails are on it.  So, in my normal day-to-day, I need it.  Very much.  It simplifies my life and allows me freedoms for which I am grateful.  Above all else, it keeps me plugged in - to my family, my friends, my world.  However, always being plugged in means always being "on".  I am always the therapist, the girlfriend, the sister, the daughter - all at once.  Wearing all of these hats, all day long, can be exhausting.  This is where the vacation comes in.

I take a vacation to escape, to relax, to just be me. Yet most of the time, I'm "relaxing" while still checking my email every hour, and answering every text that 'dings'.  I didn't realize that I was still "on", until I went without my phone for a couple of days.  Now, I cannot ignore the impact remaining "on" has on my ability to vacate.   I'll give an illustration.  I'm sitting by a campfire listening to the banter and laughter around me, watching the flames dance, seeing more stars in the sky than I thought possible.  I am paying attention to everything around me, and to nothing, all at the same time.  Then, my phone 'dings', immediately interrupting the impenetrable quiet that only nighttime in the wilderness can offer, interrupting my daydream about the stars and the fire.  I check my message - and in doing so have completely removed myself from the world around me.  My colleague has texted a work question.  Now, my brain clicks into work mode.  I am thinking about things happening hundreds of miles away - and unfortunately, keep thinking about work long after I have replied to the message. When I finally return, both mentally and physically, to the fireside, I have to settle back into relaxation all over again, from the beginning.

I compare the experience to being awakened in the middle of the night.  Each time you wake you have to begin the sleep process all over again; these interruptions keep you from ever achieving a deep, rejuvenating sleep.  In vacation, interruptions keep you from ever achieving deep relaxation, real escape.  So, while your two weeks meant for relaxation felt nice, it probably didn't restore you as it could have.  My conclusion?  Give being phone-less a try, for as long as you can stand.  Notice how much more present you are in your surroundings, and with your friends and family.  Notice what uninterrupted vacationing can do to still your soul.

Now, I realize not everyone can take vacations, but unplugging can have benefits even in small doses during your everyday life.  Have a lunch break?  Great!  Leave your phone behind.  Go for a walk.  Eat alone at the park. You won't regret finding even short periods of time when you aren't "on".  Have a long commute?  Put your phone away and find a good playlist.  Notice the scenery.  Practice your meditation breathing.

With all the roles we play, with all the hats we wear, the pressure and stress can keep us from achieving a real sense of calm.  Give yourself a head-start by putting the smartphone down for a bit.