I went wireless last weekend, and I mean that in the old-school way – no TVs, laptops, iPods, Blackberries or even radios.
Instead, I spent a couple days at St. Francis Springs, a beautiful Franciscan retreat center nestled on 140 wooded acres in the North Carolina sticks – a getaway arranged as a 40th birthday gift from my awesome wife. For most of the weekend, there was just me, the Catholic priest who runs the place and about 15 Episcopalians attending their church leadership retreat.
Apart from two irate dogs who charged when I tried to jog past their house (“Never go left out of the driveway,” Fr. Louis Canino told me later), the weekend was defined by delicious home-cooked meals and blessed chunks of silence.
“How are your meetings going?” I asked one of the Episcopalians, an under-achiever who works three days a week as a pediatrician in a nonprofit health clinic and the other two days as an Episcopal priest. “You know,” he said, “I kind of wish I was doing what you’re doing.”
Which was very little.
I mostly just read, walked the trails or prayed, and sometimes all three at once. And then I did those same things over and over again because there really wasn’t much else to do.
You hear a lot these days about the many downsides of our global addiction to technology – constant distraction, shortened attention spans, rising stress, stunted relationships. And those all sound like great reasons to escape now and then to places where our fancy devices don’t exist or don’t work.
The biggest benefit from my retreat: a continuity of thought and feeling that I almost never experience.
I went into the weekend wondering how I might correct my own bias toward constant action and activity, which has gradually crowded contemplation and reflection out of my life. So on Friday night, I started considering some important questions: How can I be a better Catholic? A better husband, father and son? A more focused employee and writer?
As I read, walked through the woods and savored some roasted meat and vegetables, I ruminated on these questions, as I have many times before. The difference this time: the insights that gradually arose had time to build on one another and gather momentum, instead of being fractured almost instantaneously by random e-mails, televised sports or the compulsion to check my book’s Amazon ranking 10 times a day.
I was startled by some of the things that occurred to me as I laid on benches staring up at the late winter sky. By Sunday morning, I needed a good 20 minutes to jot down all of the new and significant thoughts that had popped into my head.
The challenge now will be actually doing something with them. But that’s a good problem to have. And perhaps the perfect excuse to schedule another retreat — after, of course, receiving permission from my awesome wife.