In March, I went time traveling. Not the kind of time travel depicted in the movies—there were no sleek futuristic machines or flashy buttons to guide my path—in fact, the experience was quite the opposite. I traveled back to a simpler era by giving up all social media and all forms of reading for seven days. Then, I made an effort to get out in nature each day. As I reflected in a park near the end of the week, admiring the watercolor sky, I realized that inner exploration can be just as captivating as taking a vacation.
My journey came about as a sort of informal social experiment. In the past six months, I’d read two separate articles that intrigued me—the first a piece in Outside detailing a growing body of scientific research that suggests being out in nature, particularly around trees, can physiologically boost happiness; the second a post from one of my favorite bloggers who’d recently finished The Artist’s Way and given up reading and social media for a week as a way to boost creativity. I wanted to see what would happen to my productivity, mood and general well being if I combined the two practices. What I found surprised me.
One week without reading and social media certainly left me rejuvenated, filled with creative ideas and the discipline to execute them in the absence of my go-to procrastination tools. But it was also a lot tougher than I had initially anticipated. Social media is one of the best ways to keep up with friends who live far from me, and I adore starting and ending my days by becoming completely absorbed in an article or a book. I was reluctant to give those things up, and it was difficult to commit to a week without making up excuses.
Even before I started the experiment I found myself laden with fear. One of the parameters I set for myself was to check email three times a day, and to only read the emails that pertained to business (no more news feeds about cool restaurant openings). Initially, my head spun with negative “what-if’s”: What if my dream job lands in my inbox? What if I miss an assignment? What if there’s an emergency? What if…
As the questions whirred, something clicked—I was completely attached to checking my email. And as the week progressed, I grew to appreciate that time in between inbox refreshing, finding myself more productive with the tasks that needed to get done for the people who email me. I began to get more creative with my daily breaks; rather than check Facebook or read a quick blog post, I would take a walk, sit in the park, enjoy the sun. In lieu of my nightly read, I caught up with a few TV shows I’ve been meaning to watch for years (like, finishing the first season of Mad Men kind of years).
By the end of the week my typical anxiety departed, making way for a joy that brightened my interactions with those around me. As this newfound peace settled in, possibilities presented themselves in abundance. I didn’t stress as much about the future, feeling happy instead to be where I stood.
Like all vacations though, this one wasn’t permanent. When I tuned back into the world, I felt the familiar disappointment that comes with returning home, but also the inevitable excitement—that delight that blossoms when you see your friends for the first time and get to share your experience and show off your new tan. The experiment proved to share one of the most significant qualities of travel: beauty in transience. When we travel, our experiences are important, but it’s what we bring back from those experiences that continue to shape us for years to come. Each adventure plants new seeds in our hearts and our minds, tiny particles of knowledge and bravery and openness that unfurl and grow with time.
For one week this month, or even just a few days, try traveling back in time. Create reasonable guidelines for yourself, revisit an old goal or passion, disconnect from social media, stop reading and get outside. You’ll come back refreshed and inspired, with meaningful souvenirs in tow—and I bet you’ll like what you find.
Image via A Well Traveled Woman