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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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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Living for the Future is Bad For Your Health

In a talk at the Mindfulness & Education Conference at Omega Institute in 2013, Lama Dawa Tarchin Phillips asked the audience how many of them do what they do to create a better future for our kids. About a third of the group raised their hand, which he said is about average.

He explained that from a Buddhist perspective, the challenge of imagining a better future is that you will accept collateral damage along the way.

Sometimes the collateral damage will involve others, but often it involves you.

In order to get to this mythical future where everything is better, you become willing to accept things that are harmful to you, like overworking and excessive stress, and you ignore the relationship with the one person you’re really here to take care of—you.

Interesting. I hadn’t thought of it that way before.

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