I spent the last week at my family’s cabin in Hyattville, Wyoming. The cabin sits on the Paintrock River, in the valley between the Rocky Mountains and the Big Horn Mountains. There is no internet and no cell service. It is forced relaxation. Truly unplugged.
When I told my associates at work that I would be without cell service and email for a week, they were horrified. Somewhat shocked that there were still places in the United States where people didn’t have internet, one paralegal admitted “I couldn’t do it. If I didn’t have access to Internet, I couldn’t relax.” But isn’t relaxation the point of vacation? Have we really become a society who can’t relax without the common stream of information? Or are we just confused about what we really need?
I have been going to this particular spot in Wyoming my whole life. When I was a kid, it didn’t even have a land line – or television. Over the years, we have upgraded the cabin – building a new place that could be rented by others – and have installed a land line and a satellite dish. But, I never turned the television on while I was there and was completely and joyfully oblivious about what was going on in the rest of the world for an entire week.
Surprisingly, my kids had a similar experience. Because they were not permitted to engage in screen time, they found other ways to entertain themselves – reading, playing games with their cousins and hiking. I recently read an article on the importance of allowing your children to become bored.
According to the article, unstructured time gives children the opportunity to use their imagination and be creative. It is in these periods of down time when kids learn to listen to themselves and figure out what they really want to do to solve their boredom, finding their own passions.
For example, on our vacation, my younger daughter wrote a short story and then read it to the entire family – earning quite a round of applause which was good for both her creativity and self-esteem.
Adults also benefit from down time. Just Google “benefits of down time” and you’ll see the experts lining up to tell you the benefits of unplugging. For example:
“Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets,” essayist Tim Kreider wrote in The New York Times. “The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration—it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.”
According to an article in Scientific American, “Downtime replenishes the brain’s stores of attention and motivation, encourages productivity and creativity, and is essential to both achieve our highest levels of performance and simply form stable memories in everyday life. A wandering mind unsticks us in time so that we can learn from the past and plan for the future. Moments of respite may even be necessary to keep one’s moral compass in working order and maintain a sense of self.”
On my vacation, my brother and I took a twelve-mile hike to secluded Lake Solitude in the Big Horn Mountains with our children. The hike, which took eight hours, allowed me a lot of “processing time.” I find that I, purposefully or not, store up issues in my head until I have time to process them. In the silence of those hours, I was able to listen to myself. I was able to sort through how I truly feel about three different very important issues in my life that have been quietly nagging at me for the past couple of months. Now, I can move forward confidently having made decisions about what needs to be done to make me happy. If that isn’t a productive day – I don’t know what is!
It is said that the quieter you become, the more you can hear. I encourage you to turn off your TV once in a while. And your computer. And your cell phone. Sit in silence – or go for a walk. Quiet your mind and listen to your soul. You may learn something.