I am free, liberated from the grip of out-of-control social networking. I severed my ties with Facebook early this afternoon, turned off my computer, and headed out for a 2-mile hike along the trails on Goucher’s campus.
This is not the first time I have done this. On at least two other occasions, I have taken 40-day breaks from the social-networking scene. Each time, my life thrived. I used the unplugged time to walk, write, see old friends, and live more fully than I had done in months–if not years.
What makes this a little different is that I’m not too sure when I will return, if I ever do at all. I’m leaving that window wide open; I trust my judgment that I will know when the time is right to make that decision.
Just leaving that window open, though, is liberating in ways I could not have imagined, even as late as this morning just hours before I made the decision to cut the virtual cord. What I see before me are limitless opportunities without any desperation to get them accomplished within a 40-day deadline. I have no desire to “report back” at a later time and let the Facebook world know just how different my life might have become.
And NO disrespect to all my friends. I hope to see you more, not less. I hope, too, that those meetings will be done with intent and are genuine and meaningful. Oh–here’s the most important part: without any expectations. Let’s just talk over coffee or wine. Share words. Strengthen the bonds that are seemingly impossible as status updates and tweets.
Yes. No disrespect at all. I miss the genuine-ness, that’s all. I want this experience to be real, not virtual.
The walk I took around Goucher (just in my back yard) was, in every sense, perfect. The weather was a strong 75, and a gentle breeze finding its way through the budding branches kept me cool during most of the 2 miles (see second photo below). As you can see in the photo directly below (and above, too), the path is very clean. I experienced a few muddy patches here and there, but nothing I couldn’t side-step. I had plenty of warning every minute of the walk, and I had no surprises that hindered my speed or enjoyment.
More than halfway through my hike, I experienced three things that I found extraordinary. The first was simply out of a book or a movie; the second and third experiences were more typical of life in the forest, but extraordinary to me nonetheless.
As I rounded a soft turn on the path and headed along a straightaway (maybe for 50 yards), I spotted a chair in the middle of the woods.
Now, I have seen enough episodes of Lost and have read enough books (Ishmael by Daniel Quinn comes to mind) where such things can be both mysterious and life-changing. I knew it would have been a foolish thing to pass it without, at the very least, acknowledging its presence.
After checking the area for obvious traps and even cameras, I walked over to the chair, a beautiful place to sit and take a rest. A yellowjacket swarmed around the edge of the seat, and I tipped it up to see if there were any nests underneath. I found nothing, and the bee left without incident. I noticed, though, that the chair was resting on the leaves as if it had just been put there. The legs had not settled into the detritus floor, and the seat was clean of dust or stains from rain or pollen.
I was very suspicious now, and so I took another look around. I tested the ground around the chair. I even checked for wires, messages, or curious college students peaking at me from trees far in the distance.
I decided that I would accept its invitation for a rest, and so I sat. Here is the view that I saw from the chair (if you see college students or wires, please let me know!):
After making sure that I was alone, I closed my eyes and listened to the beautiful sounds of life coming and going as I breathed. I could feel my pulse through my hands as I gripped my walking stick in front of me. I knew that the chances of finding a mentor before me when I opened my eyes were slim, if not outright ridiculous, but I could not dismiss the thought.
This is how it works, I thought. You take a walk, you find a chair, and some guy or gorilla walks up to you and starts talking about how you are late, and he thought you would never get there.
When I opened my eyes about 2 minutes later, I was alone, but not really. Everything had magnified itself–the winnie of the Robin, my own pulse, and the brightness of each leaf, new and old, all around me.
I did not need a mentor to change my life. I just needed the invitation and the permission to sit, reflect, meditate, and cherish.
I took a picture of me just before I left. I don’t know why. Maybe I felt that I had to record this moment. Remember that I was here. Remember that it’s these eyes that take it in first, then these ears, then this mind and this heart….
The second experience was the sweet generation of life in a newfound ecosystem. The steady rains that we have endured these past few weeks have created small ponds in the woods. As I was walking, I saw several ponds that were developing their own ecosystems. This one, pictured below (and just a few hundred feet from the mysterious chair), was by far the most advanced.
As I stood in stillness, I observed the subtle signs of life: leaves ruffling along the ridges as the male spring peepers shifted their weight and wooed their female counterparts, tiny lines rippling in the water as backswimmers and water scorpions made their way from leaf to twig to stone, and other imperceptible sounds of life that brought random notes to this natural, choral performance.
Man is so consequential, I thought, when it comes to the resilient generation of life.
Along a short straightaway about 50 feet from the pond, I was struck by the small but brilliant contrast of a red-breasted American robin’s eggshell against the dull browns and beiges along this path (pictured below). This was the same deep powder blue color (with subtle turquoise undertones) that I had first seen as a child, when the nesting baby robins in the evergreen bush by my front porch kicked them to the ground so unceremoniously. There, they had maybe 5 or 6 feet to fall to the ground.
To fall all that way, I thought, and stay intact. Even the fragile can survive if they get a little help from others– a lifting breeze, a soft landing place. How does one learn to fly when born so high?
I stretched my neck, covered the sun from my eyes, and winced to find the nest.
Had the wind carried the shell from another tree? Had it tumbled along the smooth earthen floor, only to land here in this temporary resting-place?
As I continued my way along the trail for another quarter-mile, where it meets the road, I thought more about the pond, the chair, and my first excursion after leaving behind the social-networking craze.
I turned around and retraced my steps. I carefully stepped over the robin’s beautiful eggshell, glanced at the freshly formed pond on my left, still in its infancy, and paused once more to take in the significance of a single chair in the middle of the woods. The beauty and simplicity of such things, but what could it mean?
I took a few more steps, watching for random roots along the way, and looked up just in time to find what may have been that great sign I was looking for all along. Someone, for some reason, and at some recent time, had painted a single, red heart on one of the trees (pictured below).
I smiled, knowing fully well that I had made the right decision to turn off my computer, put my walking boots on, and reconnect with all that is real, simple, and genuine.