The day before we hitched Sugar Magnolia to the station wagon I logged out of Facebook and deleted it from my phone, but not before sharing one of those inane “taking a break from social media” social media posts. With an intention to only share one image a day on Instagram, we set out for a 21 day camping and hiking trip around the Benelux, a swanky mash-up of Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg.
Sugar Magnolia is the name of our early 90s Eriba caravan that we bought last year from a Dutch family living about as far east in The Netherlands as you can go. Our custom for each road trip is that once safely out of the neighborhood, we pop a CD in the player (yes, the car is also old enough to have a CD player) and crank up Sugar Magnolia by the Grateful Dead.
“…She’s got everything delightful
She’s got everything I need
A breeze in the pines in the summer night moonlight
Crazy in the sunlight yes indeed…”
On the road south headed to our first stop in Limburg, we were happily planning our first meals and hikes while watching the turbines spinning along the flat Dutch farmland. Strong was the itch to capture a video of the passing polders to post a poignant piece about natural energy sources. But I resisted and returned my attention to the conversation in the car.
A few hours and a couple of aging hippie soundtracks later, we rolled into the campground at the Maasduinen National Park and stood gawking with goosebumps under the massive Douglas Fir trees who would be our hosts for the next few days. The Maasduinen park in Limburg is a vast park of dunes, heather fields (heide in Dutch) home to an array of wildlife and quite the diversity of bees, according to the forest ranger who greeted us with a boyish grin and a large bee poster depicting the winged friends who keep the world humming.
Once settled and sufficiently lunched, we headed out for a hike in the dunes and heide, just starting to bloom in advance of the big purple show that covers the dunes for a couple weeks in late August. With the road behind us and a beautiful uncivilized horizon all around us, our conversation wandered into transcendentalist territory where we considered Emerson’s transparent eyeball and Buddhist teachings about being fully present to our direct experience. As Sookie and Louie, our two aging boxer/bulldog companions sniffed and peed and pulled us along, we started noticing that the path was lined with ripening vines of blackberries (well, to be accurate, they are European Dewberries). B bent down to pick and pop a berry onto her tongue and then I reached into the tangle of leaves and thorns to pluck a plump little treat for myself.
Zing! The tart little explosion was perfection, full of sunlight and itchy memories from childhood summers spent picking blackberries behind my elementary school in Atlanta. Fully present and at the same time welcoming wisps of the past, the urge to capture it all for social media barged in to spirit my attention away from my present experience. “Ooo, let’s get some pics, reach in again and let me take a few photos for Instagram!”
No longer was I fidgeting the seeds lodged in my molar; no more was my gaze soft and reminiscent; the taste on my tongue had faded into framing the perfect photo for thumbs ups and heart emojis from the handful of people who may or may not see my berry blip in their day of scrolling.
Gone was my direct experience of the landscape, my lover and our languid walk in Limburg. Now my mind was out here with y’all, imagining the dopamine kick it would get out of a nanosecond of…what? Affirmation, acknowledgement, ego? Ugh.
Around 180 years ago, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Standing on the bare ground,–my head bathed by the blithe air and uplifted into infinite space,–all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eyeball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or parcel of God.”
I slipped my phone back in my pocket, feeling a little silly that I had so quickly stepped off the present path and onto the digital landscape in my mind. This multifaceted medium – blogging, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube – is built to be addictive, and I have been a devoted advocate for sharing a bit of love and light in the mess out here. I am also now called to put down my PDDs (person distraction devices) and take the “soft animal of body” out into the created world to experience encounters with wholeness – that awareness of being part and parcel of God – that elude me on the interwebs.
And this doing what I do not want to do, all toxic Pauline theology aside, is a real and present human condition that many of us struggle with in various degrees and domains. In this struggle we are invited to be intentional with our promises of progress. For me this means airplane mode, away messages and phones parked out of reach combined with mindful/bodyful/prayerful practices such meditation, forest bathing and lectio divina. Such intentionality, however we craft it, can lead to rich internal landscapes where we are more fully aware of and connected to the world, one another and our ideal selves.
Here are a few ideas to help us deepen our human experiences of the here and now:
Find out how and use Do Not Disturb and away messages on your phone, email or other digital connection tools.
Put your phone in airplane mode at meal times, when you are on a walk or any time you want to just think your own thoughts for a while.
Go outside or spend longer than usual lingering by a window in your home.
Look closely at everything (let it get a little weird).
Occasionally take a photo with the intention to print rather than post.
Breathe deeply when the urge to click or scroll tugs at your mind. Notice the sensation without judgement and let it pass.
Journal or draw – on paper – cheap notebooks are best for letting yourself fill the pages with musings, meanderings and mistakes.
Be gentle with yourself.