One man’s prescription for unplugging from “life” and reconnecting with yourself.
When someone recently told me that life was an addiction, I wrapped the statement within a pleasant, optimistic frame; life is something we love and don’t want to let go of, I thought. However, after a long weekend in rural Arkansas with my wife and four of our friends, my perspective shifted. Stepping away from the generalization, dissecting the ambiguity and unpacking the baggage of what I called ‘life’ and/or ‘addiction,’ I saw the good and the bad that stuffed-up my sense of living, what living could be, and what I intended it to be.
Our original motivation for going into the woods for this extended weekend was to take a step back from the things attacking our ambitions and to give ourselves four full days to pursue our own projects. With jobs and other obligations filling our lives to the brim, we decided to make room for the things we wanted to do. For example, my personal goal was to exorcise some long stagnated sentences out from my head and onto paper; I hoped this trip would allow me to make a formidable dent in a book I’ve been writing. What I hadn’t realized while preparing for the trip was that the baggage I wanted to abandon in the city wasn’t what I was leaving behind but what I was taking with me.
The very act of driving across state lines and exchanging buildings and cement for trees and gravel made me feel like I’d successfully escaped. A steep climb up a dirt road, we came to a sudden stop at the sight of a ceramic mug situated in the center of the road. Intrigued, we retrieved the cup, arrived at the house, and parked our car. The owner of the Airbnb that was to be our home for the weekend came out and greeted us along with her dog. We smiled and shook hands as our dog Niles sniffed and exchanged wagging tails with his new friend.
“Is this your mug?” our friend asked the owner.
“Oh! Yes! Thank you. Sometimes I just sit my mug down when I go walking and forget that I left it,” she said. Her voice seemed to come from a different place – strong but placid, like a Buddha. After giving us a tour and showing us the ropes of the solar power and rain water systems, she left us the keys and went on her way.
We speculated as to whether she was stoned or just really at peace. She had repeatedly stopped in mid-sentence, completely losing track of a thought and then apologized, saying, “Sometimes that happens out here.”
And while we at first laughed at her comment, by the end of the weekend we found it to be true. That did sometimes happen out there.
But something else also happened out there: not one person in our group of six accomplished anything we had set out to accomplish. I didn’t write a single word of my book. My friend didn’t finish the illustrations for his children’s book, and my wife didn’t finish editing the first draft of her novel.
Had I known this would be the outcome before we left St. Louis, I might never have agreed to go. But I’m glad I did. That cabin, with the six of us in it, became a space teeming with imagination. We laughed and admired the free-range chickens wandering around the forest; like they were a vision of something missing from our lives we never realized we were doing without. Each couple took extra time and care to cook a day’s meals for the whole group – an exercise I hadn’t taken the time to enjoy in months. At the cabin, the food simmered and the smell of fresh coffee lingered as though it came up with the sun and remained through the night. Hours and hours were spent being shocked and in awe of the environment and the view, taking pictures of everything I saw because everything seemed so worthy. It was all so impressive I wanted to focus in, freeze the moment, and keep it forever.
By the time we left I’d taken more than five thousand pictures on my iPhone. The best picture was the one I didn’t take. Crawling through a cave, back farther and farther until there was no more light, we could hear water echoing and a cool mist surrounding us. We crawled through small crevices that eventually opened up to a large cavern where a waterfall flowed from the ceiling into a pool below us. I tried taking a picture, but the darkness soaked up the flash; the mist blurred my lens. It was something we were only allowed to glimpse with a flashlight and our senses; an experience and view you had to be there to appreciate. In that moment I felt more at peace than at any other time during a weekend of countless quiet moments. This existed for the experience alone. There was no product to be had. Nothing to keep and nothing to contribute.
Coming back to the city, I see now that the miracle of that weekend was escaping my preconceived notions of myself and my life. Going out there to fulfill my own ambitions by writing a novel was really me allowing my escapisms, my distractions from life, to weigh me down in my more authentic escape to life. The book is one of many addictions I’d been holding onto and one, thankfully, I still have. What was an art and therapy in St. Louis was baggage there in Arkansas. I didn’t need the book in that cabin. My imagination was allowed to go beyond it. I need the book here, because here is further from paradise than the Airbnb in Arkansas.
What can unplugging do for you?