Vacations for me in recent years have not included any extended period of being disconnected from the world, and specifically being disconnected from the Internet. Serving multiple clients doesn’t seem to be possible when I am completely cut off from communication, and even if I make an earnest effort while on holiday to not check my email too often, if it is there and available I will usuallly either be tracked down on my phone or simply give in to the “temptation” of checking my messages. And while I have taken some short trips and spent some vacation days less in contact than others, my e-mail auto-reply still says something like “I won’t be checking my e-mails regularly”, purposely vague and noncommittal to really disconnecting.
I am much more aware of this compulsion to check my email than I used to be, but I am still not where I want to be in terms of how and when I proactively use e-mail or other messaging tools to my benefit, versus being passively pushed and pulled by them.
All that as an introduction as to why I was excited last month to completely disconnect for 14 days when I rafted approximately 250 miles with my sons down the Colorado River, through most of the entire length of America’s Grand Canyon. The only form of outside communication taken by the guides was a satellite phone for emergency use only, and fortuntately it was never needed. I knew that I would not be able to send any e-mail or whatsapp messages for two weeks, and on this occasion my auto-reply was quite clear – “I am not reachable”.
As our bus departed Flagstaff, Arizona for the drop-in point near the Utah border, I was still wrapping up a few questions and issues related to potential deals and problems I had been working to solve, all of which made up, to some extent, my sense of self-worth and self-importance to the world. As the signal on my iPhone faded in and out on the road, and “No Service” finally appeared once and for all in the top corner of my screen I began to adjust to the new reality of being present with myself, my sons and my other travel companions (about 20 of us in total, including 6 guides).
The first few days I experienced withdrawal symptoms of sorts as I had to consciously remind myself that I was there to disconnect and that none of my “normal” responsibilities mattered, at least for the next two weeks. I would find myself swinging between feeling a strong joyful sense of relief from the daily burdens to counting the number of days until I was to return to civilization. And more than once in those first few days I had thoughts along the lines of “14 days is too long to be away – this is going to take forever!”
But as the days passed I slowly began to let go with the intention of turning the trip into a sort of 14-day meditation, where I could slow my mind to focus only on being where I was at that very moment, be it in the turbulence of a whitewater rapid, packing up our camp from the night before, or floating peacefully through the Canyon.
After about three days a certain rhythm had developed and less and less I found myself counting the days as I became more comfortable in the moment, enjoying whatever it was the day brought. I had let go the burdens of daily life and the “problems” I had left behind disappeared into the daily routine of life on the river. Seeing and touching the multiple layers of the earth, descending layer by layer through about 1.5 billion years of history made my daily issues and current struggles seem pretty irrelevant as well.
Back now to “normal” life in Singapore and my wife gave me a copy of Eckhart Tolle’s bestseller “The Power of Now”. She read it several years ago and I remember her trying to engage me in the topic at the time, to no avail. But the Grand Canyon and my experience there has, it seems, at long last made me ready for its simple message of living in the moment, not the regrets of the past nor the anxieties or false hope of some future fulfillment, but simply acknowledging the only thing that matters now is in fact Now.
The book has given me a new word to use in place of “problems”, some which I had attempted to take with me into the Canyon. Tolle says:
“It’s about realizing there are no problems. Only situations – to be dealt with now, or to be left alone and accepted…until they change or can be dealt with.”
My time in the Grand Canyon was special in many ways, in more ways than I can articulate, but I now have some new vocabulary to use and a clear point of reference to a time and place where the present moment was all that mattered. And for this I am grateful.