“Come into my lap and sit in the center of your soul. Drink the living waters of memory and give birth to yourself. What you unearth with stun you. You will paint the walls of this cave in thanksgiving.” –Meinrad Craighead
A couple of weeks have already passed since my annual computer-off retreat. I wrote down a bunch of notes/reflections during my time off and was planning to do a series of posts about it. However, life keeps rolling along, so perhaps the moment to do so has already passed. Essentially, I wanted to take this digital sabbatical for two reasons:
- To “defrag” my brain. That is what this felt like for me. It wasn’t/isn’t that technology is “bad,” but that I think differently with its ever-present tug in my life. It splinters my attention/thoughts/time and I felt the need to regroup and reconnect with myself. I felt a strong need to redefine my relationship with technology and my use of it.
- To take a break from the digital noise all around me and experience quiet/internal solitude. I feel like too much time online contributes to a hoppy, jumpy, revved up, skipping, shallow thought-process and a brain filled with other people’s thoughts/ideas rather than my own.
Three things my period of mental defragmentation revealed:
- It isn’t really technology use that fragments my attention/time/energy most of the time, it is actually my kids! (Notably, toddler-age person. Regardless of whether computer is on or off, I spend a lot of the day waiting for naptime!)
- The story I tell myself about all the things I “really want to do” not getting done because I’m spending “too much time” writing blog posts or on Facebook or whatever is really just that, a story I tell myself, it is not backed up by real life.
- I get more done and feel much less scattered and fragmented if I single-task while using technology–i.e. when grading papers, JUST grade papers, rather than putting a picture on Facebook, checking email, and then popping back to the papers and then back away again. This is common sense, but it took enforcement to realize the difference it really makes. It is also extremely easy to fall immediately back into the same jumpy pattern.
I wrote a TON of notes in my journal about this experience, which was funny because I hadn’t written in that particular journal since May of 2011 and that probably truly is related to tech use.
I started to dream vividly again once I stopped going to bed with my ipad.
I did a lot of things with my week off…and…one of my big realizations was that these are all things I probably would have done anyway! I kept doing things I really like and I didn’t do things I imagine or claim I want to do, because…ahem…I either don’t really want to do them OR they take more time/energy than I can give in a life with kids the age of my own (regardless of whether my cell phone is on or off).
But, I did paint something, which I have been claiming to want to do. And, I learned that I’m not very good at it and don’t really want to do any more! 😉
I spent a lot of time down in the woods on the priestess rocks (on January first of this year I started what I plan to continue as a year-long practice of visiting these rocks every year and taking at least one picture. I haven’t missed a day yet, so again, technology not interfering with my true “want to do’s”).
I did not sew on my penny rug, or map out big charts about my life, or keep up with my daily journal, or draw, or clean the house, or take up new hobbies, or make masks, or do loads of school with the boys, or listen to all the saved up guided meditations and recordings that I can’t resist downloading when they come as free links in interesting newsletters, which are all things I tell myself I would do if I didn’t “waste” time online. I did start doing yoga again and walking outside with Mark again at night (both things I’ve continued since this retreat).
A couple of other things I noticed:
- The “itch” or the “twitch” to check email/open Facebook is very frequent. If I sit with it for a minute, it passes.
- A lot of my technology use that makes me feel like I have too much to do is very whim-based and kind of ADHDish. If I sit with it a minute, the false urgency of needing to act or respond also passes.
- It is peaceful and still to disconnect. It feels like a mental relief and a rest for my brain. The need to “defrag” is real. However, I don’t need a whole week to do this, just bits of time during each day and a minimum of one full day each week.
- I always have “too much to do,” technology or not. It is kind of how I’m built. I am packed with ideas and plans and goals all the time, so are my kids, so are my parents. I think it is genetic. Also, this makes us interesting people (albeit perhaps not Zen enough for some as well as for my imaginary conception of how my life “should” be).
- I have a persistent imaginary scenario of being Playful Mom making projects and singing songs with my kids all day and I’m really more of Parallel Play Mom in which I like to work on my things while my kids work on theirs, whether the things I’m working on are online or offline. Maybe it is time to stop apologizing about that.
- Time is a kind of blobby, amorphous thing that pretty much gets “used up” regardless of what I do with it. I just always want to be conscious of how I’m using it up and whether it is in harmony with my values, goals, and purpose.