Sipping My Morning Coffee and Watching the Water--My Techno-Free Weekend in Chautauqua
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"Our era's communication devices make it possible for humans to connect in ways never dreamed possible before.
But it's comes at a cost, the equally strong human need for time and space apart....we're all struggling with our connected lives, where we have all these wonderful technologies that pull us together and bring all this information to us.They are so rich in so many ways, and enriching. But at the same time are imposing a new burden. It's hard to navigate all this information, and all these demands on our attention. And that's the conundrum..I felt it in my work. I felt it in my family life. And I think we're all feeling it.
We're not making the best use of these devices. They're kind of taking over parts of lives that they shouldn't take over. And it seemed like it's not the wisest use or the way to live with them."--excerpt from NPR's Diane Rehm show. An interview with William Powers, author of Hamlet's Blackberry: a Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age--
No doubt about it. I love research. I love information. I love writing this blog. I love receiving emails.
But sometimes I just need a break from it all. As long as there is a wireless connection, a computer, or an iPod near me it's hard to turn away--turn it off--and just tune out.
As strange as it may sound, it's downright frustrating for me to have so much information arriving via my computer everyday. There's no way to keep up with it all. And forget about sharing it on this blog--impossible. And that becomes another frustration--so much to share--so little time.
So I was thrilled for the chance to spend the weekend away at my friends' circa 1950's cottage at the shores of Lake Chautauqua. Definitely no wireless there. Nothing to do but 1950's stuff. Watch the lake, talk, eat, visit, eat some more, tour around the countryside, play board games, hike, and visit the Chautauqua Institute--that amazing 1890's style Victorian wonderland where you can immerse yourself in the world of music, the arts, politics, history, world views, and religion. I LOVE Chautauqua!
And the weekend's surprising twist: A spur-of-the-moment visit to turn-of-the-century nearby Lily Dale--home to the largest community of authenticated mediums. Yes, I know, very very woo-woo.
Setting the Stage. Four Signs Pointing to a Techno & Work Break
I couldn't stop thinking about the William Powers' interview I heard on NPR's Diane Rehm Show on July 8, 2010.
1. The Internet Sabbath. Pulling the Plug.
The excerpt that got me to thinking: "You know, if you're just constantly connecting, hopping from one person--one task to another, and never stopping to take it inside and really let it go somewhere inside of you; you're not gaining as much as you could from the (technological) devices.
So the point is not to run away from them, but to really achieve some balance. And the way we have to do it, I think is to create more of those (time-out) moments ourselves, by thinking more about our connected lives. That won't happen by accident.
What we do (in our family) is, we call it the "Internet Sabbath"... Friday evenings, we turn off the modem for the household wireless router, and it stays off till Monday.
We found that we were being pulled apart from each other by our computer screens. After dinner, we would go to gather in the living room to be together, and something began to happen.
I noticed this years ago. I call it, "the vanishing family trick." One by one, we would peel off on some flimsy excuse--I have to go check something--I need a glass of water--and we wouldn't come back.
We were each going to our corners of the house, and to really meet up with "the digital crowd," as I call it.
So, we just decided we would do an experiment. My wife and I, we would take these two-days off a week, and be disconnected from this one channel, which is the computer screen. We don't disconnect the phones. We actually still have our mobile phones, but they're not smart phones, so no email is coming in.
And basically, it's sort of back to physical togetherness in the third dimension in our house, back to the voice, where people call us if they want to reach us.
We do regulate TV carefully, but we enjoy it together, including on the weekends.
But the internet stuff, the digital stuff, that we find, if taken to excess could be so draining, and was leaching so much out of our family life. It's ramped down for those two-days, and we find the benefits.
We enjoy our connected time more, Monday through Fridays because we've been disconnected just a few days earlier. It's again, this idea of balance."
2. And then there was my early Monday morning yoga instructor, who kept sharing with us the wisdom of "just enjoying time accomplishing nothing", being unproductive--like this quote from Chinese writer Lyn Yutang:
“If you can spend a perfectly useless afternoon in a perfectly useless manner, you have learned how to live.”
3. "La dolcezza di non fare niente!" has been stuck in my brain ever since seeing, Eat, Pray, Love. Ah, the Sweetness of Doing Nothing.
4. Getting Out in Nature - Unplugging to Benefit the Brain
On August 15, the same message appeared in the New York Times--the story of 5 brain researchers who hit the backcountry in Utah to explore what happens to the brain when it disconnects from emails, smartphones and computers. It's definitely worth reading. "Outdoors and Out of Reach, Studying the Brain", by Matt Richtel, New York Times, 8/15/10.
The take-away points:
- Heavy technology use can inhibit deep thought and cause anxiety, and getting out into nature can help.
- A seminal study from the University of Michigan showed people can learn better after walking in the woods, than after walking on city streets--the learning centers of the brain are taxed when we have too much information to process--even when just walking on a city street. Some researchers believe heavy multitasking actually fatigues the brain, impairing its ability to focus.
- Getting out in nature helps to "recalibrate" the brain--improving our ability to notice subtle sounds & smells of nature. It's restorative. Read more here.
- When we're always anticipating new emails, text messages, or new information coming in--we "tie-up" a certain amount of "working brain power" just anticipating the next new thing that will be coming in. There's less space in the brain to store new ideas, to analyze them, and to even decide how to use the new information.
- Getting out into nature--and disconnecting allows for deeper conversations, and deeper thoughts--without interruption. "There's a real mental freedom in knowing no one or nothing can interrupt you." I'll second that one!
- Downtime gives you the opportunity for uncluttered thinking. All the scientists felt more reflective, quieter, more focused while out in nature--and disconnected from the world.
Oh What a Day!--Thursday--the Day Before We Head to Chautauqua
- I'm up at 5:45 am in order to get everything done that I need to do before I can head out the door at 9:00 am packed & ready to go, for spinning, yoga, and my late-day at work. I'm in high-octane productive mode.
- I promised Julia Grayer I'd post about the release of her eye-opening documentary, "Chow Down" today. No way out of that one. Had to do it before I left for work. News Flash from a reader: "Chow Down" is available free on Hulu. Click here.
- I promised friend Barb that I'd send out some email inquiries this morning to B & Bs for our September weekend trip to Niagara-on-the-Lake. We'd already waited way too long on this. Couldn't put this one off.
- I had laundry to do to get ready for our trip, and our bathroom contractor needed to talk to me NOW--before I left the house. I just wanted to get out the door--not to talk to him or make quickie decisions about anything.
- I work late on Thursday and fit in a spinning & yoga class before the workday begins at noon. To make it all happen I need to pack up work clothes, make a Green Smoothie, pack lunch, and dinner before I head out the door.
My Big Lunch Box: Salad of Greens, Broccoli Slaw, Tomatoes, Roasted Corn and BBQ Chicken-less Strips, Green Smoothie, Eggplant Lasagna with Tofu Ricotta, Cherries, & a Nectarine
- I knew work was definitely going to be a challenge. We were loading a brand-new version of the software I work with all day, everyday. Everything needed to go smoothly or we would be in big trouble--and I needed to learn how to use it fast--before the day ended. There was no way this electronic journal service could be off-line any longer than necessary. Yeah! Everything fell into place. But, I still needed to stay late to complete a complicated literature search before I could head home.
- Got home at 9:30 pm and found out our Niagara B & B reservation was overbooked. Back to square one--and back on the computer til 11:30 to find a new place. I just wanted to get organized for the trip & crawl into bed.
- Up at 6:00 am to pack up for Chautauqua-food for 2 dinners, 2 breakfasts, 3 lunches. Thank goodness my husband had already made Mediterranean Lentil Salad and Caramelized Onion Penne with Sage Crumbs.
Chautauqua R & R - Back to the 1950's
My Husband, Too
Setting off for a Hike - Canada in the Distance
Our Wonderful Hosts
Cruising the Countryside - Amish Quilts, Farmer's & Flea Markets
Off to the Chautauqua Institute to See 81-year old Bob Newhart's Performance
Pre-concert Dinner of Caramelized Onion Penne, Sweet Corn, Salad, Asparagus, and more
The Medium is the Message at Lily Dale - This Girl's Just Gotta Have Fun
Here's my way-out-there story.
Saturday morning I woke up rested & refreshed, but I just had to share a wacky dream I had with my husband & our hosts. It was about a younger version of parents, dancing & having a ball, wanting me to join in--and then my dad suddenly gets sick, and my mom rescues him.
While we ate breakfast my husband browsed through a Chautauqua magazine he found on the cottage's coffee table.
My husband: "Hey here's something you might be interested in. There's a class today at the Chautauque Institute on dream analysis."
Me: "No way. Not interested in dream analysis, and there's no way there's a class like that at Chautauqua. Are you kidding? It's Supreme Court Week. Where does it say this class is being held, anyway? "
My husband: "It says it's at Lily Dale."
Me: "Oh, that must in the area. That's the mysterious-odd-fascinating place I heard about on NPR a few years back. It's this quaint 1890's village--a summer home to mediums and spiritualists--whatever that means." click here for the NPR show.
My husband: "Hey if it's close by, let's check it out on the way home. It'll be a adventure." (BTW, this is not my husband's usual style, at all.)
Me: "Are you sure? Who knows if we can even get in or what it costs." I was definitely a little skeptical, but since it really was just 40 minutes out of our way, I decided to go along for the ride.
We leave the cottage around noon on Sunday, heading northeast for Lily Dale, arriving at 12:30. It's the last day of the season, and we pay $5.00 each to enter this kitschy Victorian-style community.
The friendly woman at the gate tells us to park our car, and head over to "Inspiration Stump", in the middle of the woods to hear the daily inspirational message. "You'll love it," she tells us. We have no idea what we're going to hear--but we follow the crowd--taking a seat on a bench in a rustic-sort-of amphitheater, with about 250 other people.
I ask the two women seated next to me if they've ever been here before. "Oh yes. It's really a very special place. A few of the resident mediums are going to speak to some people in the audience. Just listen to their messages--maybe one of them will also feel meaningful to you."
Honestly, I'm not a believer in this sort of thing. Don't know a thing about mediums, nor have I ever had a strong desire to communicate with any relatives who have passed away.
Here's the scene. Each medium greets the audience, and then they seek out a few people for whom they have a specific message from a relative. Example: I'm looking for a Susan, who is wearing a blue shirt, has long blond hair, is around 30 years old, and had a boyfriend who died in a motorcycle accident in high school. The medium locates the "sought-after" Susan in the audience, and ask her if she's thinking about moving to Arizona to take a new job. Did she go to college in Syracuse? All these specific questions are answered with yes, and yes, and yes.
The basis message I got for The Stump, was:
1. Fight the fear and inertia we all have that makes us want to just stay home, stay where it's comfortable, and do the same-old-same-old. Be open to new experiences.
2. Accept invitations from interesting people--or you'll stop getting them.
And then, with 10 minutes left to go, the next medium starts looking in my way. "I'm looking for the lady in an orange shirt, who is slumping down in her seat so I don't notice her."
Oh no. Please not me. My heart started racing, and I just shook my head in agreement as I listened to his message, for me, supposedly from my mom. Honestly, I was too nervous to really remember the details, but here are the basics:
"I see a woman with her hands on her hips, wanting to tell you something very important. Kind of admonishing you. It's either your mom, or a woman who is like a mother-figure to you.
She's saying you're way too hard on yourself, and you expect more from yourself than anyone else expects from you, and more than you need to. She always wanted you to distinguish yourself, to stand above the crowd, and you have--so relax. You need to lighten up, be easier on yourself, and take more time out for fun. I see the seashore. I see amusement parks. I see cotton candy. (that one made me laugh--that's the last thing I can imagine eating.)
She wants you to know how important it is "To Take Time Out for Fun".
Does this make sense to you? It's just the images and feelings I'm getting from her. Only you know will know what any of this means."
I got all teary as he spoke, and I had the strongest sense that this was the exact message I needed to hear, right now.
Would it have made sense if he had given it to any other person seated in the audience? Is it just a universal message for all of us? Perhaps. But my mom was one-hardworking lady, who always put off "taking time out to just relax, enjoy, & travel". She waited until it was too late for her. Serious illness hit my dad, and then her, before they ever had a chance to do all the fun things they had planned to do.
I had started out this weekend just wanting to disconnect, and have some plain old-fashioned fun (complete with Bob Newhart--how old-fashioned is that?)--and that's exactly what I got.
Plus one-heck-of-a surprising message. Maybe it just came from a Lily Dale medium--or maybe it really came from my mom. It doesn't matter. It was exactly what I needed to hear at this point in my life.
As we drove home, my husband said to me, "Think about this. If you hadn't mentioned your wacky dream to me, I never would have noticed that "dream analysis" class in the Chautauqua brochure. If there hadn't been an insert map in the brochure that showed us how close Lily Dale was, we never would have ventured over there. And how odd that we got there at the exact time they were meeting at "The Stump". And how odd that you got picked out of the crowd of 250. Maybe it's more than coincidence."
Be Sure to Take Serious Time Out for Fun This Labor Day Weekend!
Post script: This week I picked-up my new bike--the one that my husband was nagging me to buy! I love it. A Specialized Ariel Sport--works for trails, bike paths, & on the road. We inaugurated it yesterday on a two-hour tow-path ride, and got drenched in the rain, midway. No matter. It was fun. We head for shelter, enjoyed our picnic lunch--and met up with an older couple who had sold off all their worldly goods, and packed 180 pounds of gear on to the back of their tandem bike. They were headed for Key West, camping & biking all the way. Wish them luck. It sure didn't look fun to me.