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My husband and I just got back from a wonderful trip to Montana. It was a regional brokers meeting, and although the meetings usually take place in a remote area so that people can de-stimulate their brains enough to share new ideas, this place was different. This was a dude ranch in the middle of the mountains. It was a step beyond the usual meeting places.
When we got there, the boot-clad reservations clerk with a hearty laugh took a small group of us on a tour of the property. None of us were used to the altitude, but we were expected to carry our bags up and down steep mountain paths, viewing the lodge, the pool house, the stables, etc. I chuckle out loud as I write this, remembering one man who finally spoke up and said, "Can we drop our bags somewhere and come back and get them or are we almost to our cabins?!" "Almost there!" she assured us.
Luckily, huffing and puffing, Dave and I were one of the first in the group to arrive at our "home sweet home" for a four-day stint, only it was missing a few things. We looked around and there was no TV and no phone. The reservations clerk who I classify as a real-live cowgirl in obviously highly used dirty cowboy boots, informed us of the news.....no cell service or WIFI in the cabins. So, no TV and no phone. Huh, I thought. Huh????? What????!!!!
I panicked. I looked around and taking the place of a TV was a charming but modest fireplace with freshly cut dry wood, placed thoughtfully in a way that would encourage a fire. There were also fresh fire-starting sawdust balls containing some kind of lighter fluid in a bowl on the mantle sitting next to a small book of matches. I looked outside and there was a huge stack of more freshly cut wood stacked neatly in a rack, just waiting to be used. This wood would be our life line.
So, I said to my husband who got me into this pickle, "What the heck? What are we going to do? Okay, this is way too rustic for me. It's beautiful and all, but OMG! Our kids and parents can't reach us at night or in the morning until we go to the main lodge!" And equally or possibly more importantly, what I was thinking was I couldn't do my wide sweep of checking social media and where everyone is on the grid before I go to bed!!! "Why do you keep saying 'It's too rustic?''' Dave would say. "This is awesome!"
Well, that was the beginning. The beginning of my detox, my internet/cellphone/social media detox. I had to do it - I had to become unplugged. There was no choice! Yikes. It was then, however, that being forced to do something actually, yes, benefited me in the end.
During the meetings, I was fortunate enough to work on my computer in a beautifully crafted log room of this very authentic lodge, listening to a crackling fire and occasionally looking out the window at God's country. True green pines, aspens turning gold and snow-capped mountains above a valley full of sunshine, whistling wind and the smell of pine. It was hard to concentrate on work, so I just started taking pictures to remember the moment.
After an unexpected incredible dinner that night with great stories full of familiar memories and laughter, Dave and I made the trek to our cabin, the place without TV or cell coverage. Was I ready to be unplugged for the night? What time was it? Was it too early to go? What would we do without a TV to wind us down? Have I checked in with everyone I need to? Yes, I know you think I sound crazy, but you try it! It's not as easy as it sounds.
We immediately made a fire when we got to the cabin, because, well, that's all there was to do. And that fire turned out to be the center of our world each night. We would make the fire, snuggle under a blanket with our shoes off, and yes, wait for it - TALK! Yes, we would talk for hours on end or at least until our eyelids couldn't stay open anymore. We talked about things we never take the time to talk about at home and things we had tried to talk about for weeks, but never seemed to have the time.
As the trip went on, we actually couldn't wait to get to our cabin each night and make the fire and take our positions under the big wool blanket watching the fire and listening to the occasional pops and crackle of wood that had to have just been cut. It burned so easily! We would always find an interesting topic to discuss and never had a disagreement, just discussions.
One morning, I got up out of bed, pulled open the curtains in the main room, only to be startled by a blanket of white covering the beautiful valley we were in as well as everything in sight! Where am I? I thought. Oh yeah, Montana. That makes sense, but I surely did not expect four inches of snow!
What a gift this was! The first words out of everyone's mouths that day were exclaiming about this surprise, this gift that no one anticipated! Something you just couldn't plan even if you tried, but the Heavenly Father had His own plans to make our trip even more memorable.
Dave ended up taking a horseback ride that day to the top of a ridge where you could see snow-clad mountains for miles. He remarked that no one on the ride even talked for several minutes when they arrived at the top, just taking in the inexplicable beauty and fresh air.
That same day, our last, I accompanied some spouses on a trip to Yellowstone where we saw incredible natural beauty in a way I've never seen before. Steamy hot springs with a backdrop of majestic mountains 360 degrees around us! We were fortunate enough to take in the sights of the "Grand Canyon of Yellowstone" that day, complete with a huge waterfall feeding into billowing rocky drops looking over into a canyon of rushing water.
Our last fire in the cabin was bitter sweet. We knew this was the last night we would experience no TV and no cell phones. This was our last night for relaxing and talking without the interruption of what's on whatever screen we are watching at the time. I had actually learned to be unplugged - at least for a good period of time each day. Finally, I didn't feel anxious with that knawing ball in your gut that you're missing something. I felt balanced and peaceful, rested and relaxed. I could do this!!! And yet, it was time to go home.....
Truth be told, it was just enough time to teach us both a valuable lesson. We all need that unplugged time to reconnect with each other, to be healthy, to feel good about ourselves and feel good physically. Whether it's listening to each other's day around the dinner table or having important down time before we go to bed, we need conversation without the grid.
USA Today came out with an article just the day before I wrote this. My mother actually gave it to me. I guess she thought I needed to hear it - "We're Exhausted: Stress, Social Media Taking a Toll." It talks of a 60-year-old woman who went to her doctor, complaining of being tired all the time. Her doctor insisted, "You're getting older." But the lady wasn't buying it. "I used to have tons of energy. I know you slow down as you age, but I'm physically exhausted all the time. And I know I'm not the only person who feels this way."
According to Patricia Bratt, Therapist and Psychoanalyst, with offices in New Jersey and New York City, "Social media has created a new sense of impulsivity and urgency (and it) can be fatiguing." Brett works with young adults who check their social media constantly - at all hours of the day and night - and they all complain about being tired. "It impacts their sense of themselves and their identities and makes them anxious," she says. "(Social media) can make them feel overwhelmed by what is happening in the world, and all of these factors can be fatiguing and can impact how they sleep."
Maria Vila, a physician at Atlantic Health System's Chambers Center for Well Being in Morristown, N.J. says fatigue is also one of the most common complaints among her patients. "I hear this all the time," says Vila. Patients are told they are getting older, or they are female and menopausal. "We're living in a very complex society," says Carlos Rueda, Chairman of Behavioral Health Services at St. Joseph's Healthcare System, Patterson, N.J., "and this causes all kinds of problems. We are dealing with perceived threats from everywhere, economic uncertainty, and we are in constant state of fight and flight. And, of course, people are constantly receiving stimuli from their computer and their phones.... This is also creating constant stress that disrupts sleep and disrupts your circadian rhythm," he remarks, referring to the sleep-wake cycle.
So Rueda points out that dealing with these stresses requires re-learning how to relax. He suggests setting a time, like 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. to turn off your computer and TV screens as well as limiting phone time. He says we are not wired in a way to be receiving and processing information 24/7.
Good point, right?! It’s definitely going to be a goal of mine to pick up a book instead of my phone at night before I sleep. We can all think of ways to unplug for periods of time – meals, time with family and friends, e.g. And I’m saying this to myself more than anyone, but I know there are many others out there like me.
I may put a picture of Montana in my bedroom and try to always remember that feeling we had at night in the cabin, watching the fire and re-connecting. We were put on earth to connect with others, not check the latest message on social media.