If for an entire week, someone removed your phone, Internet access, TV, shops and contact with other people, how would you react? I recently took a week away by myself. I found a small and beautifully unassuming house in a National Park that didn’t have access to any of the above technologies. What I discovered is that although all these things can be useful (and we find excuses and ways to justify them as such), they are massive distractions. When you remove them from your life it is only you that remains. This was my experience and I wanted to share some of it with you.
Within the first hour, my patterns and habits began to appear, showing themselves to me very clearly. I had imagined I would feel differently in a new environment, but it became obvious that these habits were really ingrained. They’re triggered by the slightest memory or action, like constantly walking to the kitchen bench to check my phone even though I was excited there was no phone reception. I was now in a position to see those ingrained habits and choose how I would respond.
That early evening without distractions, my fears arose. I felt them in all their glory and with nowhere to go, I allowed them to be there. I observed and listened. I discovered their irrationality. At one time they were very rational and appropriate, and since then I’d been needlessly carrying them with me and was relieved to see they were no longer relevant.
I filled my days with meaningful activities, fishing from sunrise and again at sunset. Chopping wood for heat and food, cooking, reading, studying, writing, painting, pondering, reflecting, walking, listening and sitting. Having taken with me Walden by Henry David Thoreau, I surrendered my world to contemplate his. With mindfulness now in every psychology clinic and self-development book, Thoreau wrote about it back in the eighteenth century “I have been anxious to improve the nick of time, to stand on the meeting of two eternities, the past and the future, which is precisely the present moment”.
In that fashion, I cooked each meal with attention; I seated myself at the table and enjoyed the individual mouthfuls. When I chopped wood, I chopped wood. When I fished, I fished. When I walked, I walked, and when I thought I deliberately thought.
Before arriving on my trip, I believed my surrounding environment was a barrier. A few days in it dawned on me that I am the environment. It’s contained within my 168cm body and goes wherever I go. How humbling and liberating it was to find out that my environment was so compact and I had complete capability to change this package, rather than world around me. Definitely a much smaller task!
I discovered a great deal about who I was and I wrote about how I would interact with the world upon my return home. It’s not static; it’s continual reflection and adjustment by listening to my body, noticing what brings tension and relaxation. Thoreau says “I would have each person be very careful to find out and pursue his own way, not his fathers or his mothers or his neighbours instead”.
I have seen a great deal of unhappiness and illness created by choices and decisions people make in their lives. We are a society of lost identities. We are overcommitted, working long hours to sustain the expensive houses, cars, clothing, technology and restaurants. We are accessing therapists, books and courses to help us manage, when really all we need to be doing is getting really still with ourselves, knowing who we are and living that.
I’m so very grateful for my time away and will continue to bring that same value to my life every 6 months. A few people said to me upon my return that I was lucky to have that time away. The thing is, luck had no part in it. It was choice and action. I listened to myself to know what I was asking for, and I made time to make it happen. Everyone has the same opportunity; it’s just a matter of your personal priority.