The smart money was on the third day. I’d go running and screaming for my iPhone and come back to the world as we know it.
The challenge? I was undertaking at 10 day retreat. Totally unplugged. No phones. No internet. Not even books. And – here’s a kicker. 10 days in total silence. I would talk to no-one. Totally unplugged.
There is a reason why none of my friends believed I would last. Heck, I wasn’t sure myself. I have been plugged in since I can remember. I have had a smart phone since they had them. I had one of the earliest Blackberries. I’ve been connected for years. And it goes beyond that. How many of you have looked at USENET on a 14.4 baud modem and thought, “Wow!” And if you have, have you stayed up all night reading threads? I have.
When I started out, search engines were named after Archie comics characters. That’s how far back I go.
I worked on email before people had email. We had text messages on our old VAX systems in the late 80’s.
I’ve been connected as long as you could be connected.
So when I announced that I was unplugging for 10 days, everyone was shocked. They wondered if I could do it. When I added the idea that I would be silent — no talking — everyone was certain I couldn’t.
But I did.
I spend 10 days without so much as glancing at an email. This is the guy who would sneak a peak at his smart phone while watching TV at night. My wife used to complain – so I got her an iPhone too and she complained less. But even as we drove into the retreat centre, I was checking email for the last time and she said to me, “We’re going to be apart for 10 days, without any communication, and you want to spend the last 10 minutes looking at email?”
I agreed, but my addiction was there. I lived with that smart phone. Have you ever gone through three hours of no email and wondered what was happening? I have. Those of you who have pushed the “refresh” button and felt uncomfortable know what I am talking about.
This was cold turkey.
This was absolutely incredible. After a few days.
The first days were stressful. I was vaguely aware of something missing. The first night, I awoke, dreaming of a panic situation. I had forgotten something crucial. A panic attack. What would we do? There was nothing I could do. I’d have to walk out of here and give it all up to deal with this. Was I willing to do this?
I lived through those. Then came the dreams. for the first few nights I would dream about issues and sending emails. Just when I would press “send” I would wake up in my lucid dream state. I realized that this was a dream. I had no computer. No email. I was unplugged.
Yes, I got the sweats. Yes, I had panic attacks. But I endured.
By day four I was starting to unwind. Bear in mind, I was living the life of a monk. I awoke at 4 am and by 4:30 I was expected to be in meditation. I meditated for 10 hours a day, with small breaks. I lived for the walks between the meditation hall and my barracks where I stayed unable to converse with the others.
On day four I had a unique experience. I spent a minute or two, for the first time in my life, living in the moment. I wasn’t thinking of the past or the future. I was just in the present moment.
Over the next few days, I experienced many more moments like this. I’ll remember to my dying day walking along the cedar chip path in the trees, watching the shadows of the trees on the path in front of me. The dance of light and shadow was a total delight.
I watched a porcupine make his way slowly through the forest. I watched a chipmunk forage for food. I hear the silence in the forest with nothing happening.
I smelled the scent of hot pine needles as a slow, hot breeze moved through the forest.
It may sound trite and I vowed not to be “born again” after this encounter, but I found stillness. An incredible stillness.
Not that it was all pleasant. If you have 10 days with no distractions – no email, no reading, no conversation — nothing to do but meditate and think — then you will go where I went. I examined my life. In daytime thoughts. In nighttime dreams. I revisited events and memories. The surprise? I have very few regrets. That was a surprise. But at this age, I’ve managed to forgive myself for much of the damage I have done. My bad actions have lost their power.
But I still had to face me. I had to deal with me. And I was able to look into the mirror and see – me.
But I lived. Unplugged. For 10 days.
When I came back to confront my life – my emails, I was a little overwhelmed. One thing I discovered? I could live without a lot of it. I have spend the past week stripping out things I didn’t need. Hey – to everyone who has an email list, I suggest that you build a vacation freeze. When I came back and saw huge amounts of email I was merciless. I read and if there was no value, I unsubscribed. Don’t be a pile of meaningless emails that someone confronts when they get home. That’s an “unsubscribe” moment waiting to happen.
Anyway, I’m back. With a new sense of purpose. And its not just the email subscriptions that are going. It’s everything that has no value. And according to Sturgeon’s law – “90 percent of everything is crap.” Only now – I can spot the crap.
10 days unplugged. Could you do it? I’m not suggesting you do. I am questioning. Do you know what the 90 percent of crap is? That’s the only way you know what the 10 % is. And I do. When I went out today I walked in the warm breeze to the subway. I smiled at the people on the way. It was a great day.
And I didn’t check my email till I got to work.
Can you do that?