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May 11, 2015

I Stopped Asking Myself “What If.”

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I escaped February in Chicago.

Sundresses, flip flops and sunshine would usually be welcomed as pure bliss, but admittedly, I had more anxiety than high expectations for this unusual getaway.

My mom’s voice was echoing in my head—“Are you sure it’s safe there?” Truthfully, I had no idea. I was 13 weeks pregnant, in Central America and this was my first “unplugged” yoga retreat. I entered this week with a blindfold on, not knowing what to expect but I had a loose idea of what I signed up for based on the website, which advertised: Daily silent meditation hikes through the local coffee fields, two yoga classes per day, seven days of “unplugging” (giving up all of my devices-smart phone, laptop, iPad and iPod) and two days of noble silence—no speaking or eye contact with fellow humans, no reading or writing and no devices of any kind.

Our group arrived at the Pura Vida retreat center and the uneasiness of the dark sky brought on an eager anticipation for the morning sun to extend its light, so I could give a verdict of embrace or anguish. As I laid in bed contemplating the next seven days, giving up my devices, the company of my group and my freedom of speech, the very thought of this brought on a wave of shear panic. “What if my family needs to get in touch with me? What if my doctor calls with news about the baby? What if work needs to ask me a question? What if my dog gets sick and my sister can’t reach me?” These wicked “what if” scenarios only existed in my racing mind and held me prisoner to my devices and notifications. Without my technology I thought I would feel naked and vulnerable, but again that’s a “what if” since I had never attempted to “unplug” before. The “what if” game stalked my mind for the next hour until my body coerced my brain into sleep.

I rose before the sun. Somewhat startled, my eyelids peeled up. “What the hell is that distant cackle—is it really a rooster waking me up?” I didn’t grow up on a farm so I found this rather funny and enjoyed his chant. I had the strong impulse to grab my phone, tweet this OMG moment out to my twitterverse and spread the joy of this city girl’s live rooster experience.

Our retreat leader announced that we didn’t have to surrender our devices for a few more hours so I quickly grabbed hiking shoes and went out exploring. I hurriedly snapped as many photos as I could with my iPhone and posted them on Facebook. I labeled the album, “A few photos before I unplug for 7 days”. A feeling of calm spread through my veins, “Ok, now I feel better, I got my fix”.

Three hours later—I reluctantly surrendered my devices and prepared for silence. I had the thought of what it must feel like to be a drug addict heading off to rehab.

Interesting things happen when you don’t have your head buried, fingertips scrolling, eyeballs trolling, and voice babbling—“Wow!  I actually have five senses not just two (touch and sight)”. Like a child, I started to experience the world around me with a thirst for discovery.

I found a vacant wicker rocking chair on top of a hill that gave me a much better view than my home page on Facebook. I placed my palm on my belly to connect with my son and enjoyed the tropical breeze as it gently swayed my chair back and forth. From this elevation it looked like a box of Crayola’s exploded and painted the trees, birds, rainbows and mountains. In my own stillness, silence and solitude the nature that surrounded me came to life and I fully embraced her.

I shifted my sight upward and noticed a familiar shade of blue, one I hadn’t seen since my childhood days of doing somersaults in my neighbor’s pool. I scanned the clouds with a refreshed set of young eyes. They started to take on shapes and at this moment I realized “name that cloud” sure is better than the “what if” game I learned as an adult.

I’m not sure if it was the sound of the tree frogs singing or the smell of fresh rosemary growing in the gardens below that interrupted my stillness but I didn’t mind. With my bare feet gripping onto the stone cut path, I went on a journey to find fields of fresh native flowers. I touched the hibiscus to feel the silky pedals, inhaled the sweet smell and watched the hummingbirds dance around the nectar.

There was a treasure hiding in the trees, a secluded hammock that seemed to call my name. I took this opportunity to camp out and enjoyed the refreshing and pure taste of hydration drawing up through my coconut. As I laid there drifting side to side watching the shapes of the clouds change, a majestic hawk flew over me. I later discovered that the Hawk is believed to be a messenger of insight. At this moment the thought occurred to me: “This is why Buddhist monks take a vow of silence. The most simple men and women, who live in silence, are free”.

The remaining days of my retreat were filled with fond memories of my childhood that I had been “too busy” to reflect upon. I found enjoyment with eating alone and savoring every bite of my food. I practiced gratitude for all I was blessed with and for the courage to eliminate my modern day comforts and manufactured distractions. Through this healing process I discovered control over my own thoughts again. I learned that I was good enough company for myself and with each breath experienced the gift of life.

On the last day of the retreat, I thought about all of the self-induced anxiety I experienced seven days earlier. I gave myself a good “what the hell is wrong with you” laugh for agonizing about giving up my devices and voice.  I came to realize words were no longer required and the epic moments of this trip couldn’t be captured in photography, posts or tweets.

I took back many valuable lessons to Chicago but decided to leave my “what if’s” to dissipate over the mountains of San Jose.

~

Author: Lindsay Bartels

Editor: Alli Sarazen

Photo: Josh Meek/Flickr

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