Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Letting Go (and JOMO)

I’m spending the month of February hundreds of miles from London on a self-imposed writing retreat. I've rented a little house *location secret* with a river splashing past at the bottom of the garden. No television, no radio, no neighbours, no visitors. Nothing but writing, reading, long walks, hot baths, yoga and silence. Feels incredibly zen and peaceful.

It’s all about Letting Go (and the Joy Of Missing Out). As my new book officially publishes today I've taken some time out from the real world to work on my next one.

Miraculously, the sun has been shining. Even more miraculously I am writing: nearly 10,000 words in the first week. It took a bit of juggling workwise, and I’m still checking email/Twitter once a day (compare this to the average 150 times a day for most of us) and doing radio/interviews by phone. But without the fun interruptions and meetings and nights out in London, my head feels clear and my novel is taking shape. Walking is a great way to work out plot and dialogue, to recharge with fresh air and open skies, to get headspace and perspective. Green and primal and quiet. As always, after a few days of not reading news or social gossip or updates, I completely lose interest in all that. It doesn’t really matter.
My friends, nothing could be better than a physical and mental detox. Let go of those everyday distractions. Take time for yourself; make time for your work (whatever that might be). Check out my new book and plan your own escape. Relish the opportunity to miss out on whatever the f*ck is going on…
An excerpt from Letting Go, written on retreat last year in deepest darkest French Pyrenees:
‘For me, being completely disconnected was one of the most radical aspects of the retreat. I still don’t understand how something so simple could be transformative, and why I’m not able to avoid social media, emails and the internet of my own free will. Why does it take enforced seclusion and a costly retreat to make me disconnect?
Looking back, I see how I desperately I needed to switch off. That autumn, I had been close to meltdown. It had crept up on me, a combination of writing deadlines, digital overload, too much socialising and too little sleep. I decided to make my break from technology total. We had been advised to leave laptops and tablets behind, and encouraged to keep our phones off…

25 years since the invention of the World Wide Web, most of us spend hours every day online. We’re either on our computer, checking our emails, talking via Skype, tweeting, or connected in some way. What’s the first thing you do when you wake up? Or before you go to sleep? While waiting for the train? In the queue at Starbucks? If you’re anything like me, you’re aimlessly Googling, checking out Instagram pictures or Pinterest boards, bidding for something on eBay, updating your calendar, replying to texts. How can we expect to fiddle with these devices until late into the night – admit it, many of us take our tablets or phones to bed – then switch them off, and switch ourselves off too? When we have these devices in our bedrooms we’re giving our bodies and brains confusing signals, blocking the natural production of melatonin, and thus interfering with our natural sleep cycles. We are artificially wakeful but simultaneously sleep-starved. No wonder many of us are left feeling distracted, anxious, and unable to power down…
Necessary as it was, I also found the prospect of this digital detox daunting. Back in London I’d packed a stack of books – with no internet, mobile or newspapers, how would I fill my time? I needn’t have worried: almost every hour of the day was accounted for, from dawn yoga to evening meditation, by way of neurofeedback, life coaching, massage and bodywork.

Our bedrooms were what you might call spartan. Mine held a single bed, a desk and chair, and a low couch, no TV or radio, no wardrobe. I found the simple surroundings a relief. I’ve always rather liked the idea of living in a nun’s cell (in fact I’ve always liked the idea of being a nun). There was no mirror in my bedroom, which didn’t matter since I basically wore yoga pants, shorts, or sundress. I didn’t use my hairdryer once, and I noticed that all the women quickly abandoned make-up.
When we were free, between sessions, we were encouraged to spend time alone, in silence, ‘simply resting’. This was quite a radical idea. I found it very hard at first, not having my gadgets, no ping of texts, no flashing red light to validate my existence. Before I left I had set an email autoreply, and told myself that a few weeks away wasn’t the end of the world. The whole point was to leave that anxiety behind.
Once I arrived, sans leads or chargers, and accepted that I was stranded, offline, without a paddle (ok, Blackberry) – after a few days I began to enjoy it. It was liberating, not knowing and not needing to know ‘what was going on’ in the world, by which I mean who was splitting up or getting back together with whom on the Daily Mail sidebar. I had no radio, so no economic or political updates, no arts or science documentaries, no World Service during the night.

Of course I could have borrowed someone’s laptop in an emergency.  But I knew that if I glanced at my emails I’d get sucked into that endless stream of replying, worrying, replying to replies. I spent hours curled on the low couch in my attic bedroom, writing – real writing, with pen and paper. Once I got used to the strangeness of disconnection, my over-anxious, ‘busy’ brain began to quieten down.’

Letting Go: Heal Your Hurt, Love Your Body and Transform Your Life, February 2015, Summersdale


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