My partner Doug and I loaded up the Subaru and pointed the car west. We had fifteen days ahead of us, and a loose plan to spend time in the redwoods, on the Oregon coast, and in the Cascade mountains.
The only firm plans we had were to spend the last two days before the long drive home resting our trail-weary muscles in hot springs and taking time for yoga, meditation, and awesome vegetarian meals while camping at Breitenbush Hot Springs retreat center.
My intention for our trip? Be completely present. That’s really it. I knew that if I could be present, I wouldn’t miss out on the trip I was actually on, if that makes sense. I could get so much more out of each day, make the days seem much longer, and create deeper experiences and memories. I could be fully present to Doug, and to myself.
This turned out to be the case. Both of us practiced being mindfully present, and we found that when we were in the mountains, our time in the redwoods seemed like a long time ago, even though only a week had passed. Each day unraveled slowly, new delights and sensations unfolding luxuriously.How often in our regular routines of home, work, home, work do we find that another week has zipped by? The time between Monday morning and the weekend zooms, months flutter past like the calendar pages in old-time movies when they want to show time passing. Birthdays arrive ever more quickly, the older we get.
The antidote to all this zippiness is presence.
One choice I made to support being mindfully present was to unplug. I changed my voicemail message and wrote a vacation response for my email that indicated that I was out of the office until the Monday after I returned, and I honored those messages by truly staying out of my office.
Side note: I’m self-employed, so my office could be perpetually open. If I chose to, I could continually respond to calls and emails, continually write and research, continually work. One of the greatest myths of self-employment is that you have to work harder and longer than you do if you have a boss and a traditional job. I haven’t found that to be true, because my intention was for that not to be true. Very rarely do I work longer hours than I did as an educator at a school (so remember, educators are not the slackers the media often makes them out to be!). My quality of work is much higher as a result.
Okay, where was I? Oh yes – staying out of the office. Aside from messaging twice with my cat sitters, I did not post photos on Facebook of us on a mountaintop, did not respond to a single work email, did not make a single phone call. I unplugged.
Many people have asked me for tips or advice on how they can break the habit of constantly texting, checking email, reading every status update on Facebook. It seems that we’ve reached the point where it’s no longer considered rude to text while doing just about anything – having dinner with friends, or even, to my amazement, while waiting on your yoga mat for class to start. With so much societal acceptance, we can’t rely on social graces to keep us from perpetually connecting or working.
I find that people usually try to control their behavior with New Year’s resolution style promises to themselves: “I won’t check my email for one hour,” or “I won’t text while on a date with my girlfriend.” Like most resolutions, they’re bound to fail and be broken.
Instead, I ask people what they value. When you’re at dinner with a friend or loved one, what is your value? You may answer that you value that person, or the time you get to spend with them, or the time for yourself to enjoy the company of someone you like and cherish. Based on the value you hold, you get to make a choice to uphold that value or not. Choosing to text and email usually doesn’t uphold the value of enjoying time with someone special. In the moment, when you feel your fingers twitch and your brain burn to know what just popped into your Inbox, ask yourself, “What do I value?”
Making this switch from empty promises to yourself to reminding yourself in the moment of what you value can make a big difference. This way of thinking presents you with a choice, not an ultimatum. We usually resent ultimatums, even from ourselves.
Try it out, and let me know how it goes! Unplug, be present – Facebook will still be there later, I promise.