“Being out of reach isn’t a problem — it’s a blessing. It’s a salve that heals the wounds of a life that is bombarded by constant distraction.”
— Gregg Krech
When our oldest daughter, Chani, was leaving for college, we decided to set aside a day to do something enjoyable together. For our father/daughter last-outing- before-college day, we strapped two kayaks on to the top of our Toyota RAV4 and drove several hours toward the Canadian border to a magical place called the Green River Reservoir.
The Green River Reservoir is a Vermont State Park and may be the most beautiful place in the state of Vermont (which is a lofty compliment). It is a large, protected body of water containing an assortment of islands, streams, outlets, inlets, campsites, picnic areas and marshes. The shores are dense with maples, northern pine and chest-high bushes. And perhaps the most magical characteristic is the presence of loons.
Loons are a bit larger than ducks and have elegant black heads with stunning red eyes. We saw five loons during our time on the water. But even if we hadn’t seen them, we would certainly have heard them, with their haunting calls that echo across the wilderness.
As we drove through Morrisville, our last point of civilization before setting out in our kayaks, we made a quick call to Linda. “We’ll call you after dinner,” we said. “We’ll be out of reach until then.”
Few of us experience this state of being “out of reach” anymore. If we do, we often see it as a predicament. “Where is the closest Wifi connection? “Where can I go to get a signal?” But what a blessing to be out of reach now and then. The continual distractions we are exposed to create a static in our minds that may come to seem natural. But as we all know, it’s neither natural nor healthy, even if it is the norm.
On any given day we are distracted by email, phone calls, the internet, TV, kids, the sounds of traffic, colleagues at work, kitchen snacks, talk radio, music and more. During my day at the reservoir I was in a kayak with very little to distract me. My food and snacks were in a waterproof bag behind my seat, which I couldn’t access without getting out of the kayak. My biggest distraction was on the floor – a water bottle. Yes, my biggest distraction was sipping water.
When we’re at home or work, it almost feels like we have to fight for the ability to be present to our lives. But when we’re in nature and out of reach, we can simply relax into the moment with such ease that we don’t even notice it. The glassiness of the water, a sudden breeze against your cheek, the sparkle of the sunlight and, of course, if you’re very lucky, the magical sound of loons. Our attention gravitates to what is around us in this very moment. Whatever surrounds us and engages us becomes our world.
When I was in my 20’s (way before the era of cell phones) I use to take one solo wilderness trip every year for 7-10 days. I planned the trip six months in advance and traveled to places like the Canadian Rockies, the Wind River Wilderness in Wyoming, the Milford Track in New Zealand, and the mountains of the Ise peninsula of Japan. My goal was to get so deep into wilderness that I wouldn’t see another person for days, so distant from civilization that I would forget how to speak. I treasure the memories of those trips. I learned what it was like to be out of reach of anything but the trees and mountains that surrounded me.
We exchange the present moment of real life for a digital version of someone else’s life.
Now we are tempted to take our distractions with us, no matter where we go. Cell phones often have more capability than a laptop. If we’re waiting in line, what do we now do with our attention? We scroll on our little device, rather than noticing the people nearby, the artwork on the walls, or the colors in the room. We’re too busy checking our email, texts, and social media accounts. We exchange the present moment of real life for a digital version of someone else’s life.
Just yesterday Linda and I went to a state park on the shore of Lake Champlain, and we left our phones in the car. And without our phones, we didn’t have our cameras either. Rather than capturing a moment with a photograph, we could only experience the moment with our senses. How great is that?
I like being out of reach from the tentacles of civilization. Thank goodness for all the “dead spots” in the world that are without cell phone coverage. We can see them as holy places and sacred spots that invite us to reconnect with the vibrant and sensory world. We can enjoy the respite they provide from relentless digital chatter and find our way back into the riches of life.
So the next time you find yourself without a cell phone signal – look around and wake up to the simple wonder of being out of reach.Tags: Attention Mental Wellness Nature Technology