The Zen of Timelessness – The Lesson

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This is a follow-up post to my earlier tale of my first day without a car, computer, clocks or caffeine. I talk about the lessons I learned over the five days and what from my experience I’ve carried forward so far.

Over the week, I blasted through my to-do list. I had completed all the physical, moving around activities by Thursday lunchtime.

I was faced with only sit-down administrative work.

And I just didn’t want to do it.

All week, I’d wanted to move. Slowly but steadily. Nothing rushed or strenuous. Just steady, gentle motion.

Accomplishing this, managing that.

I didn’t work to exhaustion like I often do. No need to take breaks, as in, ‘Phew, I need a sit down.’

No naps were needed.

I was sleeping regularly from what I guessed was 8 or 9 o’clock at night after reading and writing for a few hours.

Then I’d waken in the dark and lightly sleep for a few more hours before getting up when it got light at 7am.

I felt totally rested.

And just…serene, swan-like.

Without access to the computer, I didn’t burn my corneas by staring at the screen too early in the morning or for too long.

I didn’t get that sense of anxiety and subsequent rise in stress I sometimes get when I am overwhelmed by the all the information coming at me.

And which causes my attention span to reduce down to that of a gnat.

Often I end up flitting here and there, stopping for a second or two, my brain buzzing, unable to process thought coherently.

I’m like a chipmunk, scattered, chattering, wasting energy.

I need to take a break at this point but am often so addicted to the buzz generated by the computer, it takes an awareness to do so and a conscious effort to break the spell.

I have to push myself away from my desk.

There was none of that this week.

I focused loosely, transitioned gently and completed projects calmly and smoothly.

Nothing was forced or hard or jarring. It all just flowed out of me.

Even the most challenging project of all, hanging four photo frames on a large wall, equidistant and evenly level, worked out almost without hitch.

Once these active projects were complete though, the desk jobs did not appeal.

I found myself procrastinating, doing busy work instead of the job at hand.

After a while I realized that my darkness hours gave me plenty of desk time, I simply didn’t need or want anymore, my body wanted to move and so I did.

I walked.

And that helped.

A lot.

One thing I really missed was social interaction.

No question, I over-isolated myself.

Beforehand I had arranged for visits with friends every day but one.

Snafus, ones I wouldn’t allow myself to fix using technology (although I got very, very close) meant I went from Tuesday morning to Friday evening without seeing a soul.

That was too long even for an introvert like me.

These days alone, longer than I’d ever gone without talking to anyone (48 hours was my previous record,) reminded me of the importance of our herding instincts for safety, security and bonding.

But also how dependent we now are on our technology for making the most basic of arrangements.

The accessibility and responsiveness of the electronica we have all around us gives us the flexibility to make, confirm, and change details at a moment’s notice.

A simple call or email would have eliminated the problems I’d had.

But this ease and the busyness of people’s lives has also led to tighter controls over our social plans.

It is rare these days to just casually ‘pop in’ to someone’s house, uninvited and without prior arrangement.

And so in some ways we are as confined by social convention as ever.

This isolation made the anticipation of the returning prodigals feel like a triumphant rock star’s homecoming, it was so bathed in importance.

And I don’t think it was entirely because I had missed my kids.

As the sun started to set, I started my transition back to earth.

I turned on the outside porch light, one of our homecoming rituals.

It felt momentous.

I opened the garage door, I got in the van.

Turning on the engine felt exhilarating and slightly scary.

Driving to meet them, I kept to the speed limit.

It seemed quite fast enough.

I had kept enough supplies in my house over the week so that I didn’t need to use a car but I had been getting close.

Walking to town and back was a huge undertaking and would have taken most of my day’s energy and half a day of daylight so I chose not to do it.

But towards the end of the week, the need for new sights beyond that of my neighborhood had got strong.

Finally getting in a car, it was freeing and totally exciting.

Later, I went…to Target.

I was so happy!

Somewhere different, lights, color, lots of lovely things to buy!

It was a big adventure.

A week later, I still haven’t worn a watch.

Only one of the clocks has been put back in place.

I keep the lights low in the evenings and make the time purposefully quiet and relaxed.

I’ve developed a new interest in learning more about the people who lives were lit only by sun and fire.

I’ve even taken to reading by flashlight.

With the advent of artificial light, we’ve been given the option to extend our day to last twenty-four hours if we choose.

We fill those extra hours of light with activity, bolstering ourselves with stimulants, crashing when we reach exhaustion point.

It seems unsustainable.

And perhaps it is.

I’d expected the week to go slowly, speeding up as the time went on.

I’d expected cravings for computer time and a longing for daylight.

It didn’t work like that.

Time went much faster than I expected, as long as I was active.

I forgot about being concerned about what time it was.

One day I was so absorbed in framing photographs, I was totally caught out by the sunset.

But time went slower when I was sedentary and when I went too long without social interaction.

I was far more content, serene, peaceful than I normally am.

I worried less and focused more.

I moved slower but more often.

I didn’t miss my computer at all.

However, the limitations of this experiment meant that I didn’t fully experience what it would be like to be without modern day gadgets.

Five days isn’t long enough to truly appreciate that.

And thank god.

Because I think it would be limited, arduous, repetitive and dull.

Technology allows us to have vibrant, exciting lives.

Ones where we can travel far beyond our neighborhoods, doing whatever work we like.

However we like.

We are limited only by our imaginations, our fears and our prejudices.

The key is balance – using technology to reach our goals but not allowing it to take us so far from our natural way of being that we become lopsided, sick and weary.

Nurturing our innate selves in a technology-driven world takes constant vigilance because the pressure to focus elsewhere is immense.

And it’s easy to feel we are wrong or weak or that we will miss out if we turn away.

So while it’s important to recognize the privileges of technology, to embrace and appreciate them, we also need to be conscious of our usage.

If we don’t make a stand, the world will drag us the way it wants us to go.

For many of us, this is a blind spot.

We don’t know what we don’t know, we can’t see what we can’t see.

So set some limits, regularly unplug for a while – a few hours or some days.

Perhaps then we can shine some light on those self-imposed constraints that stop us being a star and work to put them at bay.

We can calm down and rest.

And maybe uncover that swan within us that glides around purposefully and authoritatively instead of the chipmunk constantly chattering and scrambling.

We can get back some of that equilibrium – somewhere between the excitement technological advances give us and our more innate, gentle, way of being.

We need to use all our natural and technological advantages to build ourselves the very best life.

Because truly there hasn’t been a better time in the history of mankind to be alive.

If you’re reading this, you have the opportunity.

Chipmunk? Swan? Something in-between? Which way will you go?

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Mary E. Ulrich
Twitter:
January 19, 2012 at 3:23 pm

Alison I give you a lot of credit. You set a goal and make it happen. You kept your eyes, ears and heart open to the experience and learned things about yourself and our culture.

I’m wishing I had a couple alone days right now. Some of your discoveries sound wonderful.

How about you go tent camping with your family this summer? I bet the guys can teach you a lot about what they learned, and you can use your Zen experience to compare with the family campout.

Be awesome! Love it.
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Alison Golden January 19, 2012 at 3:32 pm

We have actually decided to do more of that, Mary. More outdoors, more camping. We all camped out last week one way or another. The boys had the nature of Yosemite, I had the candles. 🙂
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Linda
Twitter:
January 19, 2012 at 8:53 pm

“Nothing was forced or hard or jarring. It all just flowed out of me.”

Wow, Alison–this sentence mesmerized me…I wish I could experience such a Zen state. The irony, of course is that most of us experienced that sensation in times past, but perhaps did not acknowledge or appreciate b/c we didn’t see the tech-revolution coming…

Exactly–we need to find our individual technological stand, b/c the pull is so insidious…so far I’ve committed to 5-7 pm M-Th as time for dinner prep and homework, and no computer/CrackBerry. It’s tough at times, but nothing a bit of intentional discipline can’t fix. Of course, as I just reflected on what I consider a hardship I feel utterly ungrateful and trivial.

Hmmm…as much as I’d like to give up the inner-Chipmunk, I don’t think I’ve quite attained swan-status. Maybe you will continue to light the way…
Btw, me and the 10 y/o are reading The Tale of Despereaux, and yes, light as more than just illumination is a major theme–we should all be so grateful :).

Lastly, OMG–I <3 Target!
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Alison Golden January 20, 2012 at 6:57 am

It was very zen, Linda. The whole experience. The interesting thing (and a bit depressing, too) is how I have to work every day at managing my use of the toys. It is soooo easy to slip back into the world of the spinning top – the pull is stronger than gravity. I’m committing to weekends off the ‘puter, right here, right now, but those shiny, bright objects can blind me. Darkness is easier and one follows the other. Turn off the toys and spending more time in the dark follows much more naturally.
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Susan January 20, 2012 at 12:19 pm

I definitely understand the technology overwhelm. I bought a Kindle Fire, which I love, but I wonder if reading from a screen instead of a real book at night before I go to sleep is a good idea. Plus, it’s much easier to connect to the Web from the Fire than from my cellphone, so I find myself doing that more often. And I never get out of bed without first checking email, Facebook and Twitter. I’m trying to create a career in social media, so I “justify” the time spent there. But still, it does get too much sometimes.

Thanks for sharing your adventure. Lots of food for thought!
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Alison Golden January 20, 2012 at 12:57 pm

Hi Susan: I’ve stayed away from the Kindles, et al. for those reasons – the light and the internet connectivity. Just last night I read by torchlight (and not the brightest) and went immediately to sleep when I put it down. I’m very slow to add innovation to me life, I’ve discovered. Way after the majority – a laggard. I’ve only just invested in an iPhone. And wow, not getting out of bed before checking sm, that would wear me out before I’d got up. And I wouldn’t be in control of it…:-/
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Alison Golden January 20, 2012 at 12:59 pm

Oh and one thing I’ve been very conflicted about is making a career from something online. This week showed me how exhausted being sedentary and wired up makes me – sort of like how people drain introverts, the internet also drains me, while being outside, moving energizes me. KWIM?
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Deane07 January 24, 2012 at 2:35 am

Very indeed articles! I’m pretty sure many of us were touch upon it.
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Allie
Twitter:
February 14, 2012 at 2:42 pm

Alison,

I am glad you followed up on this. Isn’t it funny what we miss and appreciate when taken away (Target).

I do have to say, coming back to us and starting a new blog doesn’t seem like the next move after no computer and only daylight to work with. Why the jump?

~Allie
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Alison Golden February 14, 2012 at 7:40 pm

Two new blogs, Allie. TWO! What was I thinking? You are absolutely right though. Thinking about it, I wanted a new challenge. During the week, I came to appreciate all the great things that computers give us and when I said that I think it would be boring without our modern day technology, I really meant it. I also reflected during the time on what I really wanted. More creativity. I recently got this paleo thing right down, too, and it has resulted in an enormous truck full of energy for me. When I posted about the challenges of living paleo, I saw a huge hunger for the types of things I had learned about this way of life/eating and I wanted to share. It was only a hop, skip and a jump to acting on another idea I’d been holding back on for fear of having too much to do. My life is *not* balanced right now but it is very exciting. So I decided to go with it, it will calm down in time.

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Allie
Twitter:
February 15, 2012 at 6:18 am

Alison,

I’m sorry, I thought you had 2. I have been visiting the Clutter one. What is the link to the other one?

Life would be more boring without computer. Computers (Internet) has a beautiful way of bringing people together of the same kind. And also helping us learn about people that are different than us. We get to express ourselves and have potentially millions of people see it. I understand the pull back to do even more, heck, you had a lot of time to think.

It is great that you are getting the paleo lifestyle down, that is a huge jump. And from what I have seen on FB you have found others that live it also. Isn’t that amazing?

So when you say your life is not balanced and the Internet can help, I completely see where you are coming from. It has helped me branch out and actually life part of my dream. I always wanted to study other cultures, I’m was an anthropology major. And blogging has brought me so many people to learn from all over the world. It is quite funny how different our cultures are yet we all have those same human tendencies.

I wish you the best in your journey.

~Allie
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Alison Golden February 15, 2012 at 6:42 am

I started a paleo blog yesterday – strategies for living paleo in a world that isn’t. PaleoNonPaleo

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Allie
Twitter:
February 15, 2012 at 7:05 am

Got it. I was feeling bad that I didn’t know about your other blog but since it just started yesterday, I don’t feel bad at all. LOL.

Can’t guarantee I will be there often, mostly out of curiosity than anything. I know I am not disciplined enough to change eating habits I have, let alone my family’s. We will see…

~Allie
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Alison Golden February 15, 2012 at 12:47 pm

Good! I don’t want you to feel bad at all Allie! But yes, wander over sometime. Eating paleo is more about problem solving than anything else…

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