I remember what August used to mean in my school days. You probably have similar memories: green grass wet from water fights, cycling to friends’ houses, swimming, getting sunburned, barbeque food, live music, carnivals and fun times. The thing that unites so many of these memories is that underlying sense of possibility, of openness and of freedom.
Contrast that with the iPhone-checking, work-obsessed holiday times that we’ve let slip into our world and maybe our schooldays and school holidays really were the best days of our lives. Well, if that’s the reality you want to choose, that’s up to you.
I’ve just come back from “The Abyss”: my month of being offline, away from the internet, away from email, away from social media and away from work. It was a liberating experience and it made me realise how half-hearted so much of my ‘rest’ and ‘break’ time has been in recent years. Put simply, I’ve been half-engaged in work for so many of those holidays that somewhere along the line I forgot what it feels like to switch off.
What did I learn?
1. The cultural dimension in all of this
Detaching completely (and I mean completely) is increasingly difficult. Witness the look on the guy’s face in the phone shop when I asked him if I could move my phone contract to a phone without internet capability (no, on 3 that’s not even an option). And witness the many emails I received just before the start of August asking if they could bike me documents so I could sign them off, or call me or text me or in some way interrupt my detachment.
We need to move beyond helping ourselves to detach completely and realise that this is now a cultural issue: meaning that if we’re going to help ourselves switch off, we need to help others switch off too.
2. Meditation is easier when your mind isn’t filled with things
I found meditating easier. I found being present easier. I was less fidgety. I was more relaxed.
3. I didn’t miss Facebook or the news
It’s been lovely to get back onto Facebook and experience some genuine connections with people. But I’ve also observed immediately how much “dicking around” I’ve been doing on there, so quickly after rejoining it. Somehow it’s easier to spot this having been away. I already have a restriction placed on Facebook through my web browser during work hours, but I need this for my phone and iPad too! If anyone has any apps they can suggest, I’d love to hear from you!
4. I dreamed more
I’ve been battling with a few big work/career questions over the last year or so. You know the sort of thing… “what’s next, what’s my purpose, what’s important, what needs me, what needs me to get out the way, etc etc”. And I hadn’t really come to any conclusions before. But suddenly some interesting ideas are starting to emerge. I’ve written structure of a book I want to write, I’ve come up with an idea to start a new social enterprise, I’ve figured out the new direction for the scholarship scheme I run for girls in Uganda. When your mind isn’t full of things, you start to use the blank canvas in front of you in bigger and better ways.
5. I was kinder to myself
I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be kind to ourselves. Productivity blogs tend to be weighted more towards the stick than the carrot. And we never consider the carrot cake. Being disciplined, being focussed, being organised, being ruthless. I’m a big believer in all of these things. But there’s also to be nothing at all. A time to just be.
After all, productivity is only useful to us if all this focus on the ‘doing’ goes some way to enhancing our ‘being’.
Like this, try this…
Graham enters The Abyss