A few weeks ago, I booked myself a place at the beach and spent three days alone in silence. No computer, no phone, no schedule, no one else to accommodate. Just me and my thoughts. It was brilliant! Highly recommended!
Here are 10 things I learned when I turned off my phone and thought about the next 10 years:
1 Freedom from schedule is a good re-set
I packed in my own food and brought along art and journaling supplies, books, puzzles, and everything I thought I would need. One of my commitments to myself is that I would not be bound to any schedule. I unplugged the clock. I gave my permission to do what I wanted at each moment. I moved when I felt like moving, was outside when that called and returned inside when I wanted.
By being unbound to time or schedule, I was able to more fully notice and attend to my own wants and needs. And this helped me to access that part of myself that I normally set aside for the good of others, or for the task at hand.
2 There’s nothing like a long walk on the beach
Off-season at the beach is wonderful. On my several-mile walks several times a day, I only encountered a handful of others. Mostly it was just me and nature, getting reacquainted. I walked barefoot to really get grounded.
There’s a theory (earthing or grounding) that human bodies that are out-of-whack can be settled by spending some skin-to-earth contact. When I first heard that idea, I scoffed. But after a decade or so of letting it work on me, I now think it couldn’t hurt.
I did long barefoot walks around sunrise and sunset each day, and sometimes midday too. These weren’t power walks and I didn’t have a goal. I would watch the waves, or scan the shells washed up, or watch the sky. And step by step, I did begin to feel more balanced, I began to feel more myself.
3 Art and music can help reveal truth
I am in the midst of a 30 day art gratitude journal with Alisa Burke. Each day she gives a prompt to respond to with art. Sometimes using color and shapes helped me name ideas and thoughts that were not quite formed. Sometimes the art helped me try on a possibility. Sometimes the practice was intimidating and I practiced doing hard things to get it done.
4 Focusing on me makes me better for you
As a mom and a wife brought up in a household where dad worked and my mom invested everything in her kids and husband and household, sometimes [like all the times] it is hard for me to take time for me. Every time I do, I come back a better and stronger version of myself. Paradoxically, taking time for me actually makes me more able to share myself with family/work/others.
5 Name my principles
I use a lot of Bowen Family Systems Theory in my work. This theory posits when we are doing well, we do not react from our emotions but instead we respond from our principles. That phrase is used a lot, but I realized I didn’t have a clear sense of what my principles actually are. So I spent a good bit of time while I was away uncovering some of my deeply held principles that I had never given voice to before. Bringing these back and talking them over with those who know me well has been an important step for my life.
6 Clarify relationships
I recently read that, on average, US women need two sessions with friends a week to feel healthy and content. During this time of COVID (and let’s be honest, even before) I have not been finding ways to make this happen. I spent time on this retreat thinking about my support system and getting more clear about the relationships I want to nurture.
7 There are many possible futures
Ah! This was a really important truth for me to spend time with. I needed to remind myself that The Next Choice won’t set me on a direct trajectory to whatever possible future. Our future is like an ever-growing tree with overlapping branches added all the time. As we make each forward movement, we choose a branch. For each branch there is always a wide array of choices in front of us before we choose the next path to take.
One of the ways I accessed this truth is to create a Not A Bucket List. Rather than creating a list of things I want to do before I die, I created a list of possible things I might do before I die. Spend a couple of years in an RV? Maybe. Live in another country? Maybe. Foster a pregnant momma dog? Maybe. Do art retreats with my husband? Maybe.
I expect to do only a small fraction of my Not A Bucket List, but the creativity involved helped break me out of the idea that each choice sets me up for a particular future.
8 If not this, then what
It was freeing and lovely to be away from everything and everyone and to be able to imagine a bunch of career options. By being away, I was able to let go of feeling beholden to my current job and I was able to (at least a little bit) set aside the needs of my family and put me firmly at the center of the equation.
I created a How I Could Spend the Next Seven Years diagram. I challenged myself to imagine 6-8 different job possibilities. They included staying where I am, moving to a smaller job that would give me more free time, moving to a couple of much bigger job possibilities that would take all I have, and even starting my own business. I also intentionally left a blank area, for that possibility that does not yet exist.
This imagining of a number of possible near future options gave me the surprising side benefit that when I returned, I moved back into my current life more whole-heartedly. I could comfortably “be here now” because I had done the work imagining where I might be in the future.
9 Imagine near future and mid-future together
I brought a big art journal to do some of my thinking work. I was happy to not be working linearly with orderly lists but rather visually with ideas. I split one page diagonally. The top was How I Could Spend the Next Seven Years, and the bottom was my Not A Bucket List.
By having ideas about my near future and my mid-future together on one page, they could easily be in conversation with one another. I could see more directly how some mid-future possibilities would be more likely with one or another of the near future options.
It was a lot of fun to come home and share these graphic thoughts and ideas with my beloved.
10 Redefine my job description now
I’ve already shared in a previous post about the value of updating your job description. On this time away, I took my own advice. I spent some time thinking about what I am doing during this time of COVID and how I might best be using my work time during COVID. And you know what? Both these lists are about 80% different than my current job description. I worked on weaving together how I’m actually spending my work time and how I’d ideally be spending my work time during the pandemic and came up with a clear list of less than a dozen duties and allocated a certain number of hours per week to each. It felt good.
My first week back, I realized my ideal job description did not include “wrestling with technology” which took up seven hours that week…so my new job description is still a work in progress.
If you are able to make time to get away to do this work, I commend it to you. If not, which parts feel most important for you now? How can you turn off your phone and other distractions and focus on what is in your heart and what it can teach you?