A Beginner’s Mind: Insights from my Digital Sabbatical
The sun was doing it’s best to poke through the gray clouds, albeit unsuccessfully. I was perched on a bar stool, sipping coffee, and savoring a freshly baked cranberry muffin at Sunny Day Coffee. Sunny Day is one of my favorite spots to enjoy coffee, write, and people watch.
I was feeling a little lonely and having a hard time focusing on writing because my mind kept coming back to Russ and Laura's interview with Dan Price. Dan talked about how people want to have depth in their lives. Unfortunately, our culture isn’t set up that way. So many people want more and more stuff. But the thing is all that stuff costs money and time.
He went onto to say, “You have one chance to make your life a work of art. Kick ass and just do it! Don't do what everyone else is doing."
Dan's remark sums up the reason why I took a digital sabbatical. The Internet brings me an incredible amount of happiness. I love connecting with readers, writers, and keeping up with friends and family. But if I spend too much time online, I start feeling unhappy, dissatisfied, and disconnected from the real world, which means I'm not making my life a work of art.
During the month of July, time seemed to warp and bend around me. Some days moved really quickly and other days moved along at a snails pace. Even though I experienced moments of loneliness, taking a break from the digital world was refreshing and centering. Sometimes stillness and silence is the best way to harness creativity. As Tenzin Priyadarshi notes:
"If there is no stillness, there is no silence.
If there is no silence, there is no insight.
If there is no insight, there is no clarity."
Many of you sent me thank you notes and words of encouragement during my sabbatical. Thank you! In addition, I received a number of questions about the sabbatical. I’ll do my best to answer your inquires below:
Question: What was the hardest part of unplugging? And what was the most surprising part?
Answer: At the start of the sabbatical, I felt isolated because I use my email to stay connected with friends and family in California and in other parts of the country. For example, I missed emailing my friend Chris frequently. On the other hand, checking my email less meant that I made more phone calls. In essence, my loneliness was a symptom of Internet withdrawals. I have a lot of awesome friends in Portland, but I learned over the month that I need to make more time for them.
The most surprising outcome of unplugging? Taking frequent power naps. According to the National Sleep Foundation, Americans say they sleep less than 7 hours a night. I used to be part of that group when I worked at a traditional day job. I’d often day dream about napping in the corner or putting a cot in my cubicle. Now that I work from home I have the option to nap more often. During my sabbatical, I took 20 minute power naps in the afternoon and I'm going to make napping part of my daily routine.
Question: What did you focus on during July?
Answer: Even though I worked a lot, I felt like I was on a super long vacation. I wrote roughly 45,000 words for my print book. I didn't finish a draft manuscript, and I still have a lot of work to do, but the good news is the book is coming together.
I also read over a dozen books! Some of my favorite reads included: 168 Hours, In the Neighborhood, The Joy of Living, I Thought It Was Just Me, The Girl Who Chased the Moon, The Winter Sea, and How to Make A Journal of Your Life. I’m also re-reading the Harry Potter series.
The most exciting part of July was watching our little house go up. The house is being built in Gig Harbor, a cute little community just south of Seattle. Tentatively, construction will be completed by November 1st, just in time for my 33rd birthday. We haven't figured out where we're going to park it yet. But I'm not worried. I have a feeling everything is going to fall into place.
Question: Will you make any changes to your work flow, as a result of the sabbatical?
Answer: Multitasking erodes my mental circuitry. So focusing on single-tasking will be part of my workflow and I will continue tracking the amount of time I spend online. Also, I’m still planning on using Freedom to keep myself in check. Freedom is an application that locks you away from the Internet for up to 8 hours at a time and it's helped me stay focused over the last month.
In addition, I've decided to stop posting my weekly news update every Friday. Instead, I'll post one update at the end of each month. I've scaled back my online reading dramatically, so doing an update once a month makes sense. I will still be publishing at least one essay a week on RowdyKittens. I'm giving myself more flexibility when it comes to publishing content on the open web.
As I move forward into the rest of the year, I'm looking at everything from a “beginner’s mind.” It’s a concept used frequently by my yoga teachers and refers to having an attitude of openness, flexibly, and non-judgment. In Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind Shunryu Suzuki says, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”
I'd love to hear from you! Have you unplugged this month? If so, how has the experience felt?