Life has gotten away from me over the last few months. My habit of saying ‘yes’ more often than ‘no’ led me to working on three or four different projects at a time; travel had become the norm, as had waking up at 6am to be in touch with partners on the east coast and working until 8 or 9pm to finish the day in stride with coworkers here in San Francisco. My personal life was impossible to differentiate from my daily to-do list. I was juggling numerous friend groups and had managed to squeeze in almost every dinner, drinks, coffee, and social engagement that came across my inbox. I had become adept at playing catch-up, and seldom left time to check in with maybe the most important person in my life: me.
Last week, a friend told me she had an extra spot available for the Digital Detox retreat at Orr Hot Springs. I immediately rearranged my schedule for the upcoming weekend, cancelled a couple dinner reservations, and jumped on board. I knew I needed this.
We arrived at Orr Hot Springs late Thursday night just in time for dinner. Sixteen of us were seated at a long, rectangular table in the middle of our camp, beneath Ukiah’s bright star-filled sky. The candles on the table illuminated the gourmet food prepared by Phoenix, our rockstar chef for the weekend. We each introduced ourselves to the group without referencing what we do for a living. It was interesting to witness the freedom this allowed in myself and in others: without the crutch of hiding behind ‘what we do’, we could actually describe ‘who we are’. We were all taking part in the Digital Detox for different reasons, but a few themes emerged: most of us were looking for space, for authentic connection to ourselves and others, and for a return to simplicity.
The weekend, as it turns out, was crafted to create this space, foster connection, and highlight the beauty and benefits of living a smaller, simpler life. Aside from no phones, computers, or tablets, there was no time at the Digital Detox retreat—no clocks, no watches—and the calm ringing of a bell signified when we needed to emerge from our cabins and head down “to camp”. In between incredible vegan, gluten-free meals I took part in yoga classes and candle-lit meditation circles, hiked in the Montgomery Woods State Reserve, one of the largest redwood forests in the country, and learned how to bake bread on a stove top and screen-print my own greeting card. I read in the natural hot springs overlooking the forest, and rotated between the cold and hot pools while the sun set behind the mountains. I had meaningful, enlightening conversations with new friends.
The Digital Detox was the break I was looking for. It was full of fun, holistic activities and interesting, emotionally ambitious people. I didn’t send one email or text for three days, nor did I touch money, think about earning it, or discuss how I had done so in the past. I wore fleece pants, t-shirts, and sandals all weekend, and pretty much forgot about the belt and shoes I packed in my travel bag. I got in a total of 6 hours of yoga, 3 hours of meditation, and an hour-long massage. I soaked in the hot springs for what felt like days. I ate the best meals I’ve had all year.
Yet, it was so much more. It became clear that during the daily rat race, it is all too easy to shirk on asking myself the tough questions – Am I living the life I want? Am I spending time with those who matter most? – and even harder to devote time to answering them. A free moment is consistently consumed by an email, a YouTube video, a phone call. And when there is an opening in my schedule, it is all too easy to fill it with an errand or the next item on the to-do list. I left the retreat with a notebook full of reflections—mainly about the life I want, the life I have, and the delta between the two. I noticed that I spent about 1% of the entire weekend thinking about work. Therefore—maybe I should spend less time thinking, reflecting, and planning, and more time just being. The weekend made me realize how infrequently I am actually living in the moment, and the power and freedom that comes with being present.
Back in San Francisco I know that life will move forward at its usual pace and the challenge will be to sprinkle in pieces of the Digital Detox into my daily life. Maybe it’s not looking at email or my phone for the first hour of each day. Maybe it’s spending 10 min. in silent meditation each night before bed. Maybe it’s leaving a sticky note on my computer monitor that simply reads, “Breathe.” What it is, undoubtedly, is reserving time each day to check in with myself. After doing so consistently for three days, I feel lighter, more centered, and more purposeful than I have in a very long time.
Interested in attending the next Digital Detox? contact Levi: firstname.lastname@example.org
By David Acker