Everyday we are bombarded by an insane amount of stimuli from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, blogs, websites, on top of our work and our personal commitments. Add to that ongoing conversations going on throughout the day on Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp and Viber with different groups. We have become addicted to our phones, and constantly checking it has become an annoying habit I’d like to stop.
This past Holy Week I signed up for a silent retreat from Holy Wednesday to Easter Sunday organized by the Center for Ignatian Spirituality (CIS) at Sacred Heart Novitiate. I decided even before driving there that I would go on a digital detox as well. True enough as we arrived the Jesuit priest leading the retreat suggested we go on a digital detox. “Stop checking Facebook,” he instructed. It was easy for this priest to suggest, since he has no Facebook account by choice. But he suggested turning off the phone all together. He pointed out that life would go on even with our phones off. On one retreat, he kept his phone. He said it was the noisiest retreat for him. He was easily distracted by the text messages he received and the need to reply to them. I struggled turning my phone off. What if my parents had an accident or a medical emergency and needed to reach me? So I kept it on, but had no data activated on my phone. I left my phone inside my bag, and left it in the bedroom of the retreat house. I would check it occasionally, probably three times a day tops. I did receive a few messages: a friend wanting to meet up for lunch and another friend reconnecting. I was tempted to reply, but honored my silent retreat. At one point, I just wanted to hand my phone to Fr. Arnel, my spiritual director (and the only person I was allowed to talk to during my entire retreat). I was tempted to tell him, if there’s something urgent just let me know. But I kept the phone in the room.
I also didn’t allow myself to use the iphone as a camera. It meant no food photos. It meant no photos during my morning walk. I only allowed myself to take photos on the first morning, and one photo each of my meditation for my #100daysofmindfulness challenge. I listened to music on my phone when I exercised or went for walks. But now there was no music to entertain me while getting my 10,000 steps in. It also meant wearing a watch again. For the past, three years I’ve relied on my iphone for the time.
What was the result of my four-day digital detox?
I saw more things on my morning walks. I became more observant of details like how the rays of sunshine glared beautifully between the tree trunks and branches. I started to see patterns on leaves on the towering trees above me, and the piles of dried leaves on my feet. I reminded me of my college years in New England, and with no distraction I returned to that memory freely. With my ears not glued to music, I could hear the birds chirp. Yes, in Sacred Heart Novitiate in Novaliches, Quezon City close to La Mesa Dam, many different birds still thrive. I could animatedly watch the sheep roaming the grounds, listen to their mehhhh sounds, and observe how they moved as a flock. It brought me back to time spent in a sheep farmstay in Australia many years ago, sheering and even castrating the sheep.
Admittedly when I stopped to rest or found myself doing nothing, it was almost an instant reflex to look for my phone to check it. But without internet there really was nothing to check. So I stopped.
My purpose for a digital detox was put myself in the disposition of prayer this Holy Week. It did exactly that. I found myself able to pray deeper. I was more present to my thoughts and to my desires. I also learned to listen better. And with the silence, you have no choice but to face your own darkness and pains, as well as your joys.
In this silent retreat, organized by the Center for Ignatian Spirituality there were about fifty adult participants. But each one had a spiritual director. We could only talk to that spiritual director, and we had an hour with him or her. If we needed anything, it was only to that spiritual director, no one else. My guide was Fr. Arnel Aquino, SJ, a gentle but very insightful priest. In that daily hour, I shared what happened in my prayer time. Each conversation would be so rich and dense with nuggets from hearing myself say things out loud and hearing his inputs. It helped that we were both artists and creatives , and our souls resonated with each other. But somehow talking felt so clear and effortless. With a clear head, I could listen more and express myself better.
The best result of this silence was I could hear myself again. I could hear my thoughts. I had an abundance of ideas. I could pray. I could dream again. Even when I slept, my dreams were more vivid. I had more dreams, or was it that I remembered them more when I woke up? With no distractions, my sleep was longer and more restful.
With no Facebook or internet to turn to, I started to be creative. I colored my journal. I also became more active. Why stay indoors? So I went for long walks. (My Fitbit later told me I did an average of 13,500 each day on my four-days there). I watched the sunrise and the sunset. I appreciated nature. I did yoga for the first time outdoors. I sat in the swing under a thick shade of leaves, and did nothing.
I left the retreat feeling so refreshed. My brain was so much clearer. It’s like a brain fog is lifted. While it feels just like a giving up carbs or sugar, you feel deprived in the beginning. It is a detox after all. But after a day or two, you’re ok.
After the retreat, I didn’t really feel like I had to turn on the radio in the car. By habit I turned it on, but it felt too noisy. I welcomed the silence. Back to grind, I can’t give up the internet totally or my iphone. But I’ve decided to cut down on being online.
It’s not my first time to do a silent retreat. I’ve done it several times in the past. But I also admit being more dependent on technology now. I highly recommend for everyone to go on a digital detox and to go on a silent retreat for a few days, at least once a year. It’s not easy in the beginning just like any cleanse. But you leave with a clearer head, with your heightened senses, more in tune with yourself, with deeper face-to-face relationships, and best of all you feel lighter and freer. It allows you to finally focus on what truly matters.
Thanks for reading!
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