Offline and Off-grid, Part 1

By Tracy Keenan

April 16, 2015

It was hard to know why I was feeling so frazzled all the time.

I was working at prayer and meditation, exercising, trying to eat more healthily, and to be conscientious about taking a weekly Sabbath.  Still, I was feeling uneasy much of the time. There was always something nagging, something undone, something demanding my attention.

clownsThen it hit me. I am always in multiple conversations, my mind pinging like a pinball from one line of thought to another. It's a constant circus act: juggling, flying, leaping, and dealing with lions as well as clowns.

About five years ago I got a smart phone.  Within two months, I was walking around saying, “This thing has changed my life.” 
I was not kidding. 
I could navigate anywhere, verify anything, answer emails, Facebook messages, and texts from anywhere.

And I could get more done, couldn’t I? I could work from home, work from the grocery store, work from the sidewalk, airport, family gathering, or dinner table.

Between my laptop and my phone, I had the world at my fingertips. I could get two hours of work in before I even showered in the morning and could answer emails until bedtime. I could answer a text even if it roused me from sleep at night, or at least glance at it to decide if it was urgent before trying to get back to sleep.

Pretty soon, I realized, I was not getting more done. 

I’d lose time searching for previous correspondence, not knowing through what media it had been received. “Reply all” emails would swamp my inbox. People would use an old email (with the old subject line still in it) to send a new message about a completely different topic, and the search for information would be harder. Every ding, even if it only prompted me to reach over and silence the phone, was a distraction from whatever else I was doing.

Over time I found myself becoming more anxious, feeling more stressed and less adequate to the barrage of communication. If I thought all this was going to help me work more efficiently and be more productive, I was wrong.

It’s not only me. 
People tell me they don’t read the emails others have carefully worded. No one actually seems to answer a phone anymore. We let it go to voicemail and then see what someone wants and text or email them back. 
I don’t know how to make sure people have gotten a message about meetings or appointments.  
(There’s probably an app for that, and I’d have to find it, download it, learn it, and then remember to use it.)

Some folks say that our very brains are changing with this constant overload of communication and information. Others disagree. (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/11/opinion/11Pinker.html?_r=0)

All I know is that it contributes to a chronic sense of unease for many of us.

I have seriously thought about going off-grid on my weekly Sabbath. 
No email, no phone, no Facebook, no texting. 
Turn the thing off one day a week.
(I did it one day from sun-up to sun-down. 
Then for the next three weeks, I worked on my Sabbath.  
Massive Sabbath Fail.)  
Sabbath breaks are life-giving, and being online constantly interferes with that. (Others have written more about that.  See http://www.vision.org/visionmedia/religion-and-spirituality-the-sabbath/76796.aspx)

So here’s what I’m doing: I’m going on a eight-day silent retreat out of state with no phones and no computer use. There are five centering prayer times each day and once a day a teacher will help us debrief the experience. I will walk in the woods, read, draw pictures, write, and probably get a little squirrelly. I don’t know.

phoneNo talking, no email, no texting,no phone for 8 days. Just listening for God in the nothingness.

Just like in the old days of just a few years ago, if anyone absolutely needs to get a hold of me, they can call the retreat center and someone will leave a note for me on the message board.

I’m excited. 
I’m terrified. 
I can’t wait to go and not have to be anything for eight days. 
I’m also afraid I’ll “flunk out” of the silent part by – what? Suddenly singing show tunes or something? 

Mostly I’m hoping I can remember what it is to be an unhurried child of God, eating, sleeping, praying, and wandering in the silence, letting go of all the expectations and wants, even my own.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

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