Have you ever been so caught up in the rigors of your day-to-day demands that you just wanted to hit an “Escape” button and get away from it all? I think we’ve all been there.
Theologian Howard Thurman recommended that we look at the world through “quiet eyes.” When we practice this, we develop a degree of common tranquility. Surprisingly, this quietness isn't passivity or sluggishness. In fact, we are fully connected to what is happening, and have a bright and clear awareness of it. Yet we’re relaxed.
This past weekend was not an easy one of me. I was getting over being sick, and I was caught up in a whirlwind of projects, pulled from one thing to another, and one person to another. In the middle of it all, I found my mind had drifted back to a little island off the Rangiroa atoll in Tahiti named Le Sauvage.
On that island, there are only five guest huts along with a host hut and a dining room. There’s no electricity except for one generator to preserve and cook the food. Favorite pastimes are napping or catching and racing hermit crabs. The wonders of the rising and setting sun are so vibrant, and the stars dazzle without any artificial lights to dull them.
Le Sauvage was my quiet place this weekend. An open, expansive space that provided a feeling of being unconfined, with peace, freedom, and room to move. I found myself daydreaming about getting away from it all.
It was then I realized there is also an “inner Tahiti”; a potential for openness, space, peace, spaciousness, clarity, and freedom that exists within each of us.
We spend most of our days very far away from it, our minds cluttered and our hearts confined. We feel we have no options and are overwhelmed. Even when these stresses lessen, we may be out of touch with the greater resilience, joy, and energetic interest of which we are capable.
Unplug and Reconnect with Nature
Can you think back to a time in your life where you truly unplugged and connected with nature? Maybe it was simply a camping trip with no Wi-Fi. Did you experience the joy of truly letting go?
One summer, my boys were on electronic probation. They were grounded from their phones, their computers, their tablets, and their video games. But an interesting thing happened, they rediscovered their interests in reading, board games, and creative activities like drawing or building Lego structures. Now 16 and 21, they sometimes refer to that summer as the one when they connected with the family and enjoyed their flourishing creativity.
My challenge for you, if you choose to take it, is to devote a period of time - an hour, day, weekend, or a week, and just unplug from electronics. Spend time in nature. It doesn’t have to be an “into the wild” adventure. It can be a simple walk around the neighborhood or sitting quietly by the pool. Whatever nature is for you, do it. You may be surprised by what it does for you.
Within the last year, I have recreated my back yard into a Backyard Oasis. It’s not quite Le Sauvage, but it is reminiscent of nature with lush landscaping and a pool. I can unplug and take a break to enjoy my time around the water. And, if my dog has anything to bark about, it will be to make sure my hands are put to better use. Instead of typing, texting, or swiping, I will scratch her ears and toss her a few balls in the pool.
One of my colleagues, Taura Wright, uses hiking and getting into nature as part of her coaching. I recently had the opportunity to explore this with her. It was invigorating, and I walked away from our hike renewed. It brought to my mind the research around Walk-and Talks and how physical activity stimulates the creative part of the brain.
It reminded me of another peer with whom I used to have workout meetings at the gym next door to our office. Rather than hashing out a topic in a board room for hours, we’d pick a topic we needed to solve, jump on a pair of stair-masters, treadmills, or elliptical machines and spend a good 20-30 minutes exploring the issue. It worked! We were more productive, more creative, and knew what we had to do when we walked back to work.
We get used to moving at a certain speed. We build momentum, live faster and faster. It’s a rush that can be difficult to step away from. At times, we do this out of sheer habit or to avoid unpleasantness. With all our electronic-aided connecting, we fail to notice what is around us, what is within us, what we're feeling or longing for or lacking. We move so fast we lose touch with who we fundamentally are and what we care about most. Perhaps most importantly, we’re blinded to the actual source of our concern, pain and discontent. And we do nothing about it.
Go on an Adventure
Usually when we think of an adventure, we think of exotic places, climbing mountains, or pushing ourselves physically by skydiving or bungee jumping. It is rare to define adventure in simple terms; to just let go, settle down, or pull the plug. Yet, they are filled with adventure.
We can retreat to nature in just that spirit: be curious enough to explore, bold enough to step into a new terrain, and open enough to take the twists and turns of the unfamiliar as inevitable parts of a journey. We can have great fun as we explore alternatives to the pace, complexity, and extreme levels of outside stimulation with which we normally live.
Perhaps we think that by stopping and looking inside we will find something more alarming than the spaciousness and ease of an inner Tahiti. While it is true that when we unplug and look inside, we do see a great amount of thought and feelings, both positive and negative. They can be uplifting and hurtful. But we also learn the skills to deal with them, with awareness and tenderness, clarity and kindness. We experience difficulties in a new way, a way that nurtures us to the core of our being. We learn not to identify with passing experience, but to move beyond them to an entirely different peace with who we are.
The most critical step in this journey is actually the initial one: making the decision to unplug and explore something different. It frees us from our habitual patterns and activities. It opens our perceptions so that we can more accurately tune into the reality of our situation. It allows us to space to be creative, the freedom to examine options, and it opens our hearts.
There are times when we can devote an entire weekend to a retreat, and there are times when we have just an hour or two. Start by engaging as much peace and solitude as possible. If you don't need to be reached in case of an emergency, turn off your phone, email, television, radio, and all the other remnants of modern life.
Set aside certain space in your house you can retreat to. It can be a place you design for reflective moments, a sacred space you’ve created, or even your living room couch if you think you can be left alone there.
Look at the world with “quiet eyes," recognize that this quality of calmness isn't coldly distant from our ourselves - it is vital and alive. Unplugged and in nature, the world will come to fill us without our straining for it.
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