Why You Should Spend A Weekend Completely Unplugged
One of my 2019 goals is to spend one weekend a month completely unplugged – no phone, no computer, no music, no podcasts, no social media, no movies, nada. My first off-the-grid weekend was spent in a cabin on a river surrounded by trees… just me, myself, and I.
I was nervous going into it.
Would I get bored?
Would I get restless?
Would I get lonely?
Would I get scared?
I hadn’t spent a weekend alone and unplugged in… well, maybe never. Despite my uneasiness, I tried to just be excited for uninterrupted time reading, writing, recharging, and reconnecting.
PACKED: books, coloring book and pencils, journal.
NOT PACKED: makeup, hair products, pants without an elastic waistband.
When I first turned my phone off, I felt a little weird… like, what have I gotten myself into? Then I judged myself for that feeling, rolling my eyes at what a millennial I am. Very shortly after that though, I felt a big sigh of relief. I didn’t audibly sigh – as cheesy as it sounds, it was more like a sigh in my soul… like a deep part of me was already so grateful for some time without calendar reminders, news feeds, and text message dings
The first thing I noticed – which is not surprising – is how reliant I am on my phone. For example, I wasn’t 100% sure if I could microwave a Styrofoam plate so I chose to heat up my dinner on an actual dish that, when turned over, confirmed for me in plain English that it was microwave safe. Crisis averted. I also wanted to look up what time the moon rose and check if the sky would be clear to see it. But alas I had to just wait until it got dark and walk outside (#firstworldproblems).
I’ll admit I had a couple embarrassing urges, like wanting to check to see if the book names were legible in the picture I put on my Instagram story before turning my phone off. I’m not proud of that but hey – just being honest. And for the first couple hours, there was this very consistent, very subtle thought buzzing in the back of my mind – has anyone texted me? Eventually, though, all that phone-related nonsense disappeared… and then the real realizations surfaced…
I overcomplicate everything
Without all the texts, emails, news alerts, social media posts, etc. to overanalyze, I found myself overcomplicated the smallest of decisions, like… what to wear on Saturday. Now, keep in mind I had nothing to do, no one to see, and there were very few options to even choose from. But still, my brain found a way to make this an overly complex start to my day.
It’s too cold to canoe so I’m not going to put on the workout clothes I brought. But what if it warms up and I change my mind? The regular pants I brought for today might not be warm enough. I’ll just stay in the sweatpants I slept in. I can’t stay in my pajamas all day. Yes I can, who cares? Then what will I sleep in tonight?
And on… and on…
You get my point.
(And don’t think a similar internal dialogue didn’t happen over what I wore on my upper half.)
Why do we do this? Why do we insist on making everything more complicated than it actually is? I read somewhere the reason for this is that our brains haven’t evolved as quickly as the times have. Our minds are still operating as if every decision is a life-or-death decision because it used to be that way. Despite how it may feel sometimes, we live in a much safer world these days. I was choosing layers of clothing based on comfort, not the risk of freezing to death; and then I chose between sitting in the screened-in porch or outside on the deck with zero chance of a large sharp-toothed animal attacking me. Unfortunately, though, our minds still equate a similar level of potential-frostbite-saber-tooth-tiger-attack stress to our everyday life decisions.
Maybe that’s why so much stress and anxiety exists in the world today… maybe it’s because we are placing way too much importance on things that don’t really warrant it. And if we take a step back and look at the bigger picture – one that likely has us safe and comfortable in an office or car or home with no immediate threat of being eaten – we can dial back the importance we have given to any one decision or situation. Because the good news here is that if we are giving it the importance… we can also take it away.
I put so much pressure on myself
I could have sat outside doing nothing other than look at the river all day. I didn’t have anything I had to accomplish. I brought several books I wanted to read but did I have to? No. Was I on any kind of deadline? No. But still, I found myself slightly stressing over how long it was taking me in the morning to get outside – like I was straying from some invisible schedule.
It’s like we are constantly setting expectations – for ourselves, our life, and everyone in it. And with those expectations comes all this pressure to meet them. I set expectations for my weekend to wake up early, finish my book, start another one, and maybe finish that one too.… just like long ago I set expectations for my life that I would be married with kids and on my way to a Ph.D. by now (none of which have happened).
But what good is really coming from all these expectations? Does it matter that I didn’t finish my book? No. It just means I get to keep enjoying reading it for a couple more days. And should I be disappointed that the life plan 22-year-old me put together didn’t pan out? No. There’s no way she could have predicted the happiness that would result from all the unexpected twists and turns my life has taken. Maybe all the expectations are really doing is putting us at risk for judgment and disappointment.
What if instead of setting so many expectations for ourselves and each other, we just accepted everyone and everything? Maybe then we could allow ourselves, our life, and everyone in it to move at its own pace and in its own direction. Because with acceptance, there can be no pressure. And maybe without pressure, we are free to just be ourselves.
It’s very hard to live in the present
Sitting on the deck of my cabin, overlooking a beautiful river with a backdrop of nothing but trees, I started thinking how much I loved it and how I didn’t want to leave, contemplating staying another day. I thought about how and when I would come back.
Would I bring friends?
Where would we all sleep?
Could we enjoy silence, or would we be tempted to talk the whole time?
When I caught myself in these thoughts, I literally said out loud – “Stop. You are here now. Just enjoy it now.”
Mindfulness. Being present. Living in the moment. These are all buzzwords right now and for good reason. Science has shown how beneficial they can be in stress and anxiety reduction and overall mental wellbeing. But man is it hard! Sometimes I would think I was living in the moment but then I wasn’t really – I was listening to a bird and then immediately thinking of the birds I used to hear outside my childhood bedroom. Or I was reading a sentence in my book and then thinking about when I wanted to eat dinner.
There are so many thoughts that bounce around in our minds. We can spend all day reliving the past or playing out the future but struggle to spend even a minute completely in the present. It’s ironic because the present moment is really the only thing that is real. The past is just a memory and the future is nothing more than imagination at this point. How relaxing it would be to actually live in reality – in only the current moment. Because then there would be no stress, no anxiety, no pressure – nothing but acceptance and appreciation for that very second.
I can tell you this – my one weekend unplugged by no means made me a living-in-the-moment master. But I worked at it. I guess that’s why they call it a mindfulness practice – it’s something we have to intentionally and consistently attempt if we ever want to succeed at it.
I realize now it all takes practice – removing the stress, removing the pressure, and removing the incessant thoughts in our minds. I chose a weekend alone and unplugged as my practice field and it’s one I recommend for everyone.
But no matter where or how you choose to practice… please do it. Do it to remove yourself from the small tasks, small stressors, and small thoughts so you can remember the bigger picture that life truly is. Do it to disconnect from your family, your friends, and your followers so you can reconnect with the voice in you that’s so often overshadowed, told it’s wrong or doesn’t have the courage to speak. Do it to remove yourself from all the noise so you can search for the quiet in your mind.
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