Well this verbose bitch checked herself into a SILENT RETREAT for three days. (For some reason, every time I write the words SILENT RETREAT, I feel the need to scream them in all caps.) You may find yourself wondering “What possessed the world’s chattiest motherfucker to cloister up like a nun?” Well it’s not so much the no talking that intrigued me; it was the no WiFi. I just wanted to see what it would be like to check out for three days and unplug myself. That’s becoming like a thing now, right? “I just wish I could unplug myself for like a day, man.” You hear some asshole say that on the bus, and you think he sounds like a dick.
But you also kinda think “Yeah man, me too.”
Yeah okay, you fucking cynics, I guess I could have saved myself some ducats and just unplugged my modem and laid in bed for 72 hours, but that wouldn’t have helped my depression much and it wouldn’t have given me this blog entry very important life experience, now would it? Or perhaps I could have gone camping? Only I’m the type of person that doesn’t understand why one would camp when man gave us perfectly good mattresses to sleep on.
And since I think at least part of my depression stems from the fact that I spend a ridiculous amount time ingesting a steady diet of garbage on Facebook (“What Elizabethan poet are you?”), and since I obviously lack the self-discipline to unplug myself from the Internet or television or whatever useless bullshit distractions I can find for myself in my own home, I increasingly find that I have nothing to show for my life at the end of each day.
I have a job I hate so I half-ass it then don’t take any pride in it and feel lousy about myself as a result. I haven’t made anything I can look at and say “mine.” I haven’t designed anything to make lives easier or better. I haven’t taught anyone’s children. I haven’t even raised my own children. I haven’t cured cancer. I haven’t even nursed anyone back to health. I probably haven’t even helped an old lady across the street. I haven’t passed any laws. I haven’t affected any social change. I don’t volunteer. I haven’t contributed one goddamned thing to the human race. I have laid in bed and groused about the world via Facebook; albeit, I’ve probably made you laugh while doing it, but still.
I wonder why I feel like shit about myself.
So, I wondered, would I feel less like shit about myself and more motivated to rejoin The Real World if I remembered what life was like without devices? If the second I was bored I didn’t reach for my phone or iPad and filled my brain with stupid quizzes, cat videos, and depressing articles about how we’re all going to die because we’re poisoning the planet and our world leaders are fixin’ to kill each other? What would it be like to read a book again? To watch a sunset? To have a thought to completion?
I wanted someplace close and relatively cheap. I found a place in Vacaville and, yeah, if you’re wondering how I’m gonna find enlightment in a place that literally means “cow town,” stand in line. But the brochure didn’t sound creepy or culty, so I didn’t have to worry that I would end up sweating in a mud hut with some guru named MorningWood with people who have cleaned out my meager bank account and expected me to drink the Kool-Aid™.
It’s about as chill as you get. You can go for three, four, five, seven, or ten days. You just show up. You bring your own food to cook and even that was pretty laid-back. You can show up with a case of Pop Tarts and a pallet of Mountain Dew if that’s your bag. But being as its NorCal, there was a healthy amount of quinoa and kale gracing the communal fridge. The brochure reminded us that no drugs or alcohol were allowed, “except wine, of course.” Because NorCal. You could either get your own room with your own bathroom or your own room with a shared bathroom. The rooms were plain but nice.
There was a group meditation in the morning for an hour, led by the male half of the duo that owns the place, who assured us that this was our retreat to experience—if we wanted to bake brownies at midnight we could, gosh darn it! There was a tai chi thing that was optional in the late morning, which I didn’t go to because I’m not a joiner, and there was a half-hour mediation in the evening. Other than that, you’re free to wander the grounds at will. It was sorta like one of those insane asylums for rich people you’d see in movies from the Seventies, where we were all walking along brambly fields with windswept vistas.
There were only four of us when I was there—two other women, a dude, and me. The dude and I kept to ourselves, and I think one of the other women would have liked to have kept more to herself, but third woman clearly was a joiner and had glommed on to her even in silence. She was like a Cathy cartoon who, on the second morning, came up to me with a pan of brownies and pantomimed that the brownies were for us all to share. “I baked them last night at midnight!” She whispered, because, of course, she’d been told she could.
Basically, for three days I was forcing allowing my brain to meander again and to do its natural thing, something that hasn’t happened since I bought a smartphone six years ago.
Ya know what? I didn’t miss my devices at all, not even a little bit. Never had the urge to check my texts, emails, and not even Facebook. I finished a book I’d been trying to finish for months and then read a whole other one. I wrote a bunch. I contemplated. I fucking contemplated, y’all. Mostly, I just rejoiced that the constant buzzing in my brain and the thoughts that usually bounce around like goddamned pinballs in my head gradually slowed the longer I didn’t have electronic stimuli in front of my face 24/7.
And I watched sunsets.
The place was perched atop a ridge that overlooked a valley of pastures and farmland. (It is called cow town, after all.) And each night I would take my place on a bench overlooking the valley and wait for the show. I’d watch the sun and the clouds do an incredible, intricate dance across the sky, casting their shadows across the ridges and valley floor as they sashayed and twirled above me.
I watched the sun splash down on the floor of the valley across a big old red barn and hit a patch of trees to show off their best and brightest autumn colors—deep hues of goldenrod, amber, and scarlet. And then just keep going to show off pastures so green they could stand up and bitch-slap Augusta’s own fairways. And lambs were bleating, cows were mooing, dogs were barking, geese were honking. A hawk flew so close above me I could hear the whoosh of the wind being forced through its huge wings. It was motherfucking PASTORAL, man!
The sun’s winter light through the clouds gave the entire valley an ethereal, smoky look. It was lovely. And I wasn’t looking at my phone. Or wondering what to cook for dinner. Or worrying about the tone of that email I sent to my boss. I was just fucking watching it all unfold. And it was better than scrolling through my Facebook feed or watching another episode of some shit on television. And I felt fucking righteous because I’d had the good sense to stop and put everything down to see it.
Did I achieve enlightenment after three days atop a hilltop in cow town? Of course not. But it was a much-needed reminder that I live in a beautiful area of the country that’s full of parks, forests, seasides, trails, beaches, and sights, and I have the opportunity to walk out of the house at any goddamned minute and unplug myself from the endless feed of bullshit that has come to define my life these days.
And oh how I needed that.