Extreme Unplugging: Why I Go Dark

All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone. —Blaise Pascal

I started to write this post during meditation. I know, I know…that’s not what you’re supposed to do when sitting. But as anyone who has meditated has discovered—thinking happens.

I was a few days into a monthlong retreat at the Zen Monastery Peace Center, and I was happy. Not the kind of happy you feel when you’ve won the lottery, but happy like when you’re a kid on summer vacation.

This, I realize, is not the reaction most people would have when staring down 30 days of silence with no phone, computer, family, friends, or even eye contact. But I love being on retreat, and people often ask me what it’s like, so it occurred to me to try to articulate why I like to go dark and unplug in such spectacular fashion.

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Forgiving Is a Process

I love learning about words—their meanings, where they come from, how we use them. But sometimes I wonder if I missed a pivotal week in school where the vocabulary list included words like love, kindness, compassion, and forgiveness.

I’d heard these words held aloft as aspirational signposts since my first Sunday school teacher explained the Golden Rule. I’d even, on more than one occasion, had the experience being described by each of these words.

But the concepts themselves remained abstract and intangible to me most of the time. I knew they were real, but often it felt like I sometimes feel when passing through business class on the way back to coach. Someone else got to sit in love and compassion while I grudgingly wedged myself into acceptance and tolerance, wondering how exactly one gets access to those roomier seats.

Because these words are, well, words… I had assumed they had clear definitions. And if something could be defined, then it could be gift wrapped with a bow and neatly filed on my shelves of understanding, ready to be taken out when needed.

However, when I found myself in need of compassion, I’d take the box off the shelf and it would be empty. I’d think to myself that I know kindness would be useful in this situation, but I seem to be fresh out and don’t know where to get more.

I felt locked within an intellectual fortress, forbidden entry into the garden of good feelings and betrayed by my reliance on reasoning.

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Take a Stand By Sitting

“It is indeed a radical act of love just to sit down and be quiet for a time by yourself. Sitting down in this way is actually a way to take a stand in your life as it is right now, however it is. We take a stand here and now, by sitting down, and by sitting up.” —Jon Kabat-Zinn

For years I was a reluctant meditator.

I took to the cushion because I was convinced there was something wrong with me that needed fixing. I was trying to figure out how to be the right person in order to have the kind of life I was supposed to have—that elusive life with the right job, partner, body, clothes, house, vacations, investments, etc.

I didn’t realize this was my motivation—I just operated from unexamined beliefs and assumptions that constantly goaded me to do whatever I needed to do to “get it right.” (Though of course I was never clear exactly what “right” looked like, which is part of the scam!)

These are the same unnamed beliefs that convinced me to do one more diet, to try yet another promising exercise routine, or to switch partners or jobs on a whim.

So I sat. And sometimes I didn’t. (Which just proved how much I really needed to!) Either way, it was a battle.

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A Moment of Silence With 400,000 People

“Silence is a source of great strength.”  —Lao Tzu

I wouldn’t have thought you could get 400,000 people excitedly waiting to begin the largest climate march in history to stop, become still and silent, and raise their hands in solidarity. But it happened—and it was powerful.

As we lined the western edge of Central Park with a cushion of quiet, we had a moment to access that place beyond words, to get in touch with the bigger picture, to tap into the mystery that transcends but includes us all.

After filling up on the love, peace, joy, connection, or whatever each of us found in that moment of reflection, we brought forth that energy in a roll of sound that moved through the crowd like a wave in perpetual crest.

It was a roar of hope and frustration, of joy and anger, of optimism and sadness. It was a roar of love—the sound of a mother bear protecting her cubs and a parent whispering, “I love you” to their sleeping baby.

It was the sound of the Earth itself, saying, “I will not be denied.”

We’re All One Tribe

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The People’s Climate March on September 21, 2014 was significant for many reasons, but for me the most important was its inclusiveness. The causes represented spanned everything from labor rights to veganism to water protection to nuclear disarmament. But underlying all the concerns is a love for our home, our precious planet, that is strong enough to get people off their couches and into the streets.

I have loved nature for as long as I can remember. I spent hours romping through the woods and exploring my dad’s vegetable garden when I was a kid, and our vacations happened in an 6-person Coleman tent that included cots and a 100-pound St. Bernard.

As an adult, I have struggled to find a place where I felt at home in the “environmental movement.” Who is my pack?

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