“When I was your age, I loved being on a farm”.
“But Mom, you had friends to hang out with…”
“Actually, I did not”.
It was just me, my grandparents, and the cows at their farm in Michigan. No internet. No TV. No running water. I haven’t thought about that farm for years. I remember now, I loved everything about being there. Sometimes, after my grandparents went to sleep, I would sit on the porch alone, look up into the sky or across the fields, and listen. Although it may have seemed I was doing nothing, I was completely engaged… simply observing. And in those quiet moments that was all I needed.
Although we left our life in Seattle behind, disconnecting and being fully present seems to be one of the bigger challenges we are all facing. Since my son is part of the “iGeneration,” I suspected disconnecting from technology would be a huge challenge for him. As we prepared for this adventure, I often told people my hope for world-schooling my son would be that his world view would expand far beyond what comes at him through a tiny screen. But, I am surprised at how hard it is for me and my husband to re-learn to be completely present. Even though throughout our youth and early adulthood we didn’t have smart phones and weren’t constantly bombarded with “notifications”, we have since been conditioned to be “busy” all the time and to immediately respond to Facebook, texts, and emails. These things are now expected and rewarded by our culture. However, it is becoming increasingly clear to me that we miss out on so much by constantly looking at those damn phones and not being in the moment or content with being where we actually are.
As I sat on the porch alone at our home for a few nights in Onalaska, WA, I heard owls hoot, an occasional shriek of a hawk, and the chorus created by chirping crickets. Occasionally the song of farm dogs echoed throughout the valley and I heard a horse whinny. Smoke filled the air from wildfires burning throughout the NW. A blood red moon intermittently peeked out through the clouds and haze. A slight breeze brought the faint sweetness of honeysuckle. I inhaled and absorbed my surroundings. No one else bore witness to the exquisiteness of that moment. They were plugged in. Distracted. Connected to politics and people far away, but missing out on what was right in front of them. I invited them to put away their devices and join me on the porch; within seconds they became cognizant of the beauty the farm offered us…we only needed to be present and receptive.
It is absurd that we have become reluctant to turn away from our screens to experience what is right in front of us!!! True, the world is a crazy place in 2017 – fires, hurricanes, the threat of nuclear war, blatant racism on the rise, climate change…But watching it all unfold on a screen and missing out on what is happening in front of us surely can’t be helping? After years of serving people who struggle with feelings of being disconnected, substance abuse and/or mental health issues, I understand the desire to grasp at anything that brings a feeling of connection. Our communication devices provide an illusion of being constantly “connected”. However, the relationships and stimulation we gain from these devices pales in comparison to the experiences we miss from not really being where we actually are.
In the 1970s and 1980s, my grandfathers used to complain that everyone was going too fast. “What’s the rush,” I can hear them say. Now I understand their point. As Seattle becomes more crowded, I watch people rage in their cars to be at the front of the line of the traffic going nowhere. Crossing the street on foot, feels like you are in a game of Frogger. It seems most of us are constantly rushing to the next thing, and that desire to be somewhere besides where we are is pervasive. What’s next? Stay “busy”. I fell into the trap, I was so proud of working multiple jobs and “handling it”. I worked 60-80 hours a week for years on end… no problem. However, learning to relax and slow down? This will take some time. But in that one evening that I just sat on the porch, listened and watched… I was reminded why it is so important. Life is short. So much is out of our control. Many things we cannot fix. However, we can choose what to focus on during our short time here. I think the world in front of us and the people sharing our lives deserve a hell of a lot of that focus.