Amy Roberts: The magic of the present moment
July 21, 2015
I am a firm believer that sometimes the best way to recharge my battery is to completely unplug it. So for the most part, when I’m on vacation, even just a weekend getaway, I leave the laptop at home and turn the phone off.
Occasionally I get the shakes and have temporary symptoms of withdraw, but it is my goal to actually take part in the vacation I’m supposed to be enjoying, not spend it staring at a small screen, trapped in a digital prison. Work will always be there when I get back, and after all, it’s not like I’m curing cancer and on the brink of a breakthrough. Nothing in my inbox is going to be that urgent.
At least that’s the pep talk I give myself before a trip. I’d be lying if I suggested I’ve mastered this whole "be present in the moment" thing I’ve been working on. But I am working on it.
I started this quest a few years ago when I was in Africa. At the time the idea was forced on me due to lack of Internet connection. I was volunteering in a remote village in Uganda where they didn’t have clean drinking water, much less Wi-Fi. But I remember coming home from that trip and feeling like I really experienced it, more so than any other place I’d ever been. I wasn’t paying half attention to my duties and the other half to Facebook. I wasn’t texting at dinner. I hadn’t looked at CNN’s website in so long that aliens could have invaded Iowa and I would have had no idea. I was truly present during my time there. And after returning home, I realized my memories were so vivid because I wasn’t experiencing them with my iPhone in my right hand.
I can still smell the dusty air that led up to my two-room hut made of sticks, mud and 36 gray stones. I can still feel the soreness in my biceps and shoulders from carrying two large buckets of water up from the river each day. It was 895 steps each way and by step 700, my arms felt like they were on fire. I can still hear the bubbles and snorts coming from the hippos under water, which would direct me to retrieve the water in another, safer spot.
The sensory details of my experience haven’t been forgotten, in large part because I had no choice but to truly experience them. Had I spent that time walking to the river with my eyes glued to a smartphone, I would have missed all memories I can so easily recall. And there’s a good chance I would have also been chomped by a hippopotamus.
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On any given day in Park City you can watch people who are here vacationing, not really experiencing all that our town has to offer. Last week I watched a family of four walking down Main Street together. They were all on their phones, oblivious to their surroundings and disconnected from the present. I walked behind them for a bit and heard the mom ask four times "Where should we eat?"
Her family never answered, so she texted them all.
We can get so caught up in our phones that we inadvertently remove ourselves from our surroundings. We are often so busy posting to social media and generating physical proof of our experiences, we’re not really living those experiences in the moment.
Jo Piazza, a writer for Yahoo! Travel, recently described a weekend she spent climbing in Arches National Park. "I was simultaneously Tweeting, Facebooking, and Instagramming both photos and hyperlapse videos. That vertical climb got many likes. But, I have to say, I don’t remember much of it."
Admittedly, she was so focused on documenting her journey she didn’t really enjoy her surroundings. She was in one of the most majestic places on earth, yet her most vivid memories are about the stress of chronicling her adventure.
Disconnecting forces us to process things differently. We are able to feel more joy from an experience when we consider it beyond deciding how it will look as our status on Facebook.
Sometimes, we need to disconnect in order to reconnect — with nature, with our family, and with ourselves.
Amy Roberts is a longtime Park City resident, freelance writer and the proud owner of two ill-behaved rescue dogs, Boston and Stanley.
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