Just a note of re-entry to mark the end of my two-day retreat offline.
My kneejerk note would be something like, “It was tremendous.” And in moments, it was! In other moments it was boring. In fewer moments than I expected, it was anxious. In many fewer moments than I expected, it was insightful. Mostly, it just was.
When you go out to watch stars at night, you have to watch for at least half an hour before light leaves your eyes and they become accommodated to the dark and you can see the fainter stars. In a way, my experience was like this: it took almost a whole day before the cacophony left my mind and I could find any silence, at all. I spent the first day in complete silence, but my mind was full of sound — songs (mainly LP), something that almost sounded and felt like radio static, and the voices of people I know. For the first day, my mind was also full of my own narration, of my telling the story of what I was doing as if I were telling you, or writing it. My mind was full of my noticing things to photograph to share. It took a very long time for that to stop happening, and in fact it never really stopped all the way. Implied other, present and accounted for!
And I realized that I had approached my retreat with a specific expectation of enlightenment, that some huge insight was going to happen for me and from then on I would be ever-changed. How silly, and how glad I am to have had the inner space to spot that one lurking in the subterranean churn. Ironically, that was my big enlightenment insight. 🙂 I do this all the time. I initiate these projects with this expectation, and impose the specific insight on myself right from the outset. “I’m going to get it and then I’ll be chill / whatever.” I laughed out loud when I realized this.
Every time I undertake one of these projects, whether it has to do with retreating from noise or watching more closely or going deep in some way, my searching always circles around the same issues, and I gain and lose them, gain and lose them, gain and lose them. I’ve always felt ashamed when I’d lose them again, as if I were a small person, unable to hold big and deep things . . . but I realized that this is the human endeavor. If we just sought and then gained enlightenment (whatever that means, as a word and for us as individuals) in one grab, then the world would work very differently than it actually does. This is the human endeavor.
So on the second day, I didn’t search for anything at all. I didn’t wait for chill / whatever. I just was. I just read. I just drank coffee. I just looked at the trees. I walked a lot, regular four-mile walks over my two days offline. I drank a beer. I actually did finish The Ministry of Utmost Happiness and ended up appreciating it, a lot. I rambled along my creeks. I stopped taking photographs. My experiences were just and only for myself. And I finally stopped narrating myself, and was able to be still in the silence of Heaventree. This felt less like a marvelous transformation, less like an a-ha! insight, and more like just that moment, nothing more.
I’m very glad I did it, and I’m so surprised that it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be to stay offline. My sense had been that I go online to manage any and all discomfort, as a distraction, but maybe being online produces discomfort. Well, it does. Obviously. It doesn’t just do that, it also allows for connection and happiness, but it does also produce discomfort, especially in this nightmarish Republican world we are trapped in. I’m glad to learn that it wasn’t so hard, and I’m thinking about having regular periods of staying offline. I missed people, I missed knowing how my friends around the world are doing, seeing their pictures, but I didn’t miss the noise, at all. Since I did not feel anxious, I’m left wondering why I go online to manage discomfort. My discomfort was never uncomfortable.
A couple of great things happened while I was away: I learned that our couches will be delivered this Saturday, and I got my NYPL library card, and I don’t know which one I’m more excited about. So Saturday we’ll have furniture and I can arrange an actual living room, and we’ll start painting, and then next Tuesday the new refrigerator will be delivered. The immediate big stuff will all be in place then, and done. And I belong to the NYPL again. SO HAPPY.