This past weekend we were in the woods with other families from my children’s daycare. It was a wonderful weekend, and we left feeling physically tired but mentally relaxed with a deeper connection to nature and others.
Certainly a lot of it had to do with the natural setting, the lovely weather, talking with the other parents, doing stuff together as a community, watching our kids playing together and enjoying some simple, back-to-nature relaxation.
But I’m sure what enhanced the experience for my husband and I and made it easier for us to stay even more present and engaged was the fact that we set aside our smartphones for the whole weekend — well, technically, about 30 hours.
I’d suggested it on a whim to my husband on Saturday morning on the way to the train station. Not being able to check the exact train and platform information before arriving at the train station contributed to us getting on the wrong train. But actually, the hour’s detour did not seem to be a big deal because we were not in a hurry. Sure, we missed the chance to do the short hike up with the other parents, but we would have plenty of time to hang out with them later.
While waiting for a bus that only runs once an hour, my husband and I sat and enjoyed the view, talked with each other and played with the boys. Normally in such a situation, we would have pulled out our smartphones to help pass the time. Or more accurately, one of us would have, and the one left watching the boys would have resented the one on the phone, and the one on the phone would have been annoyed that the other one was not doing a good enough job of watching the boys.
The whole time up there at the lodge, we didn’t take out our phones to take a single photo. If I had started taking photos, I’m sure I would then have tried to decide which photo would have been good enough to post on Facebook and already been crafting the Facebook post to go along with the photo. And then, of course, wondering if others would find the post funny, clever enough or too braggy. All this would have, inevitably, taken me out of the moment that I had sought to capture.
Instead, I still have the perfect snapshot in my mind of five little children, aged 2 to 5, two of them my own, sitting on an old surfboard, like five little Indians in a canoe. They’re paddling themselves around the natural swimming pool in the woods with the aid of a couple of makeshift paddles made out of sticks.
On Sunday afternoon, after the hike down from the lodge, while we were enjoying ice creams in the shade while the children played, I finally took out my phone to take some pictures. After taking the photos, I saw that I had a couple of new emails. As the trip was nearly over, I didn’t resist taking a peek. There was an email from my cousin about meeting up in Lake Tahoe in December. It was an innocent email but I noticed how it immediately transported me into the future, to our plans for going to California for Christmas.
I saw how my mind physically left the present moment and the beautiful place we were high up in the hills above Zurich and leapt away like a frog, hopping from one rock to another, or, in this case, one thought to the next.
And that was the moment when I realized what a difference not being connected and online made. Each text or email we get, each Facebook post or blog we read would transport our minds somewhere else, away from the present time and place. That is all fine and good if we’ve set aside the time for it or have consciously allowed it. Or if we really have nothing better to do.
But all too often, I find myself reaching for my phone to check for new notifications whenever I pass by and see it lying on the hallway table or wherever I’ve left it last. And while staring at that tiny screen, I multitask or disengage from the task at hand — be it doing my household chores, cooking dinner or getting the boys in bed. The result: eating and bedtime gets delayed and everyone’s cranky.
Try it and see for yourself how banning your smartphone and other devices for a day or two or more can make a difference to your feelings of being more engaged and present in the moment. It’s probably easiest to do it when you are away from your usual environment and somewhere where there is more new and interesting offline things to distract you. How did it go?