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BY TRISH SYKES AT TARALOKA
So, here we are, Wednesday June 8th 2016, and the first day of Taraloka’s ‘Week without Internet between 6pm and 8.30am’ which we are undertaking as part of our BAM activities.
I was asked to write a diary of my experiences as I seemed to be one of two or three community members who - erm - shall I say didn’t ‘relish’ the prospect of no evening internet - the other two managing (interestingly) to be away for part or all of the week (to be clear, their trips were planned before the dates for this experiment were decided!). I am rather a ‘gadget-addict’ - for which I lay the ‘blame’ squarely on my late father’s shoulders (bless him)! However, once the decision was made, I actually found that I was looking forward to the experience more and more…because I already know that it will ‘free up’ my evenings and, hopefully, demonstrate (to myself) how much more creative I could be with my time off.
That said, tonight is a non-typical evening, in that Maitrisiddhi, Momtaz and I decided to go for a quick ‘wild water’ swim in our local mere (a new hobby of many of the Taraloka community), thus having a late supper together. I wonder if I would have agreed to go had the internet been available? I suspect perhaps not – the lure of (apparent) ‘entertainment’ may, I fear, have been too strong. But go I did – and thoroughly enjoyed both the activity and the company! So, after having a shower, it is already 8.30pm and I am nearly ready for bed. On a ‘normal’ evening, I would probably be watching i-Player, sending and receiving What’sApp messages with my daughter and my sister (who live in Ireland and France, respectively), completing my diary on the website that I use to track my calories and exercise, as well as ‘chatting’ to people on that same website, with perhaps a quick, or not-so-quick look at Facebook along the way. All in all, this would probably take me up to 10pm (or beyond) and I would then ready myself for bed, where I would proceed to read a novel for at least 40 minutes before settling down to sleep.
However, tonight, I already feel tired (I think this is something I try to ignore when on the internet) and I have a couple of ‘housekeepery’ things to do in my room before going to bed. So, I’ll sign off for today and let’s see what tomorrow brings…..
Thursday June 9th
The second day of turning off the internet at 6pm and so far, so good. After supper, I uninstalled our very poorly washing machine, ready for the new arrival tomorrow. This was something I had meant to do in the afternoon but, realising we had no clean aprons for the forthcoming Breathworks event, I had to do a quick wash to get some ready! Then Momtaz, Lisa, Samantabhadri and I had three games of ‘Bananagrams’ (unsurprisingly, Samantabhadri winning out each time!) and now I have come to my room to write today’s diary. I think that, without the lure of the internet, I feel much more spacious, and therefore more inclined to join in with these impromptu community activities. I enjoy spontaneity, but rarely ‘allow’ myself to indulge in it! I realise that I haven’t yet rescued my paints and paper from their hiding place, as I had planned to do - but, no matter, we still have five days left of this activity! I wonder how I will fare during the rest of the week.
Again, I am noticing how tired I am and find it interesting that this isn’t something I am aware of when ‘surfing the net’. In fact, the question occurs to me “what am I aware of when surfing the net?”. I think the answer to that is “very little” or even, perhaps, “nothing”. I have a sense of sadness about that….I may not have a string of letters or qualifications after my name, but I do know that my brain is worthy of more than being ‘turned off’ by my internet activities! I did have more than one member of the community (they shall remain nameless, to spare their blushes!) ask me if I was going to ‘download stuff’ during the day, to watch in the evenings. I was a little taken aback by that suggestion as I felt that if we, as a community, had embarked on this project then I, as a member of said community, wanted to adhere to our decision - not out of a sense of any sort of martyrdom, nor trying to be a ‘good girl’, but more in a bid to make it a wholehearted effort in which I hope to learn something about myself.
I’m noticing the quiet right now - I think a storm is threatening and most of the birds have also quietened, as if they’re holding their breath, waiting for the onslaught. I’m looking out at the retreat centre, and see that some upstairs windows are open - I must go and close them before retiring for the night, just in case the rain lashes down….we don’t want any guests arriving to find a sodden bed! Suchitta will be very glad of any rain for her gardens (that are, through her efforts with the watering cans/hoses looking remarkably stunning, despite the recent hot weather), as will Maitrisiddhi - it will mean that she doesn’t have to water the baby Beech hedge, which has really sprung up in the last few weeks.
So, I’ll close down for the night and go and do a couple of chores before heading off to bed. I love the idea of getting ‘early nights’….I find it so much easier for me to get to the community’s early morning sit!
Friday June 10th
Well, by the time I’d completed my ‘chores’ (see yesterday), it wasn’t that much of an ‘early night’ after all! We have had a fair amount of rain today (more than during the night) and everything looks, and smells, so fresh. Suchitta brought in some of her Sweet Peas that were being weighed down with the water, and their scent is just….well, indescribable. I did my best to find the words (while I had my nose buried in the bunch) but all I could come up with was “I want to drink them” - which really wasn’t what I was trying to get at, at all!! I ended up by saying that I would love to have a bunch of them tied (permanently) under my nose! But then what would happen? I would become accustomed to the smell and stop noticing it completely - and there would also be a whole host of other scents that I would miss along the way. So, I think just a sniff of them now and then is probably best in the long run!
So, another evening without “t’internet” and I noticed my first flicker of irritation, when I couldn’t send an e-mail to my Kalyana Mitra. It was only a ‘flicker’ which was quickly followed by “I can send it tomorrow” - what difference is the matter of a few hours going to make? How many years did I live with only being able to contact my distant friends by means of a payphone down the road (remember those?) or an actual letter, in an envelope, with a stamp (I’m aware that I’m revealing my advancing years here)?! That reminds me of an aspiration I had when I first moved to Taraloka - that I would write more letters to my friends, knowing how much excitement – and love – can be conveyed by the receipt of a private letter, rather than a bill! I think I managed to do that for, perhaps, the first 6 months, and now it has fallen by the wayside….maybe I could resurrect that aspiration?
For the last ten minutes, I have just been sitting in my chair, looking out of the window, and the ‘silence’ is thrumming in my ears. Of course, the birds are singing tonight, my wall clock is quietly ticking - but my ears are just not used to this level of quiet! It feels ‘other-worldly’ somehow, like there’s something missing. But all that’s missing, in ‘reality’, is a cacophony of distraction that drowns out my awareness, stops me thinking about….well, anything! I’ve actually just had the thought “I could get used to this” - so what’s stopping me?! Will I be able to continue to limit my use of the internet, even once it is left on in the evenings again? Now that will be interesting to see…..
Saturday June 11th
Tonight was an easy night for me during this experiment, in that most of the community (those of us who are here at the moment) watched the DVD “A Testament of Youth”. Not that it was an ‘easy’ movie to watch – and, interestingly, it didn’t stop me thinking about the theme. It’s a tough, heart-chilling, moving, inspirational, condemnation of war in all its gory ugliness. It’s also quite a long film, so it was bed for me as soon as it ended!
Sunday June 12th
Sunday night is usually our Going for Refuge group meeting, but Elaine has only just arrived home from her week away. My mental states had a bit of a rocky time early this evening and I needed to make a potentially ‘difficult’ telephone call. I was very glad that I managed to do that, although it was a very short call as it wasn’t a convenient time for the recipient. Nonetheless, it was a reassuring call and I had a better sense that the ground I was standing on was ‘firm’. I still haven’t retrieved my paints/paper etc. – why not? I have no idea, except it feels as though there isn’t really ‘enough’ time between finishing our evening meal/washing up and bedtime. Of course, that’s not the reality – I could easily have a couple of hours in which to let my creativity out – but that’s not what my head is telling me. Perhaps I need to unearth the requisite supplies during the day, so that they are all ready as soon as I come into my room. Probably, in part, due to the turbulent emotions, I am again very tired, and so I went to bed early and read some of an ‘easy-going’ novel before settling down to sleep.
Monday June 13th
My first of two days off! And yet, fairly typically, I spent it ‘doing’ things (after a lie-in) – including cleaning my room, doing my laundry and shopping for my ‘Nutri-Blast’ diet (lots of fresh veggies and fruit) which I then needed to prepare for the freezer (otherwise it goes off before I have a chance to ‘blast’ it). By that time, it was already 5.30pm and almost ‘switch-off’ time……I just had the chance to enter my calorie data into the website! Having done that, I did some physio exercises (for my arthritic knees) whilst reading the introduction of Robert Thurman’s commentary on the Vimalakirti Nirdesa in preparation for our Mitra study starting next week. An hour or so later, when I received a What’sApp message from my daughter, I realised that the internet hadn’t been switched off – but I made the decision not to take advantage of the fact – and was pleased with my choice! Our Going for Refuge group decided to meet tonight anyway – so that took up a couple of hours and then it was time for bed and my novel.
Tuesday June 14th
So, here we are at the last night of this particular BAM activity. My daughter called me at 5pm to read out my granddaughter’s first school report – a glowing report throughout, which was so lovely to hear. I spoke to my granddaughter and told her (with tears in my eyes) how proud of her I am and felt very connected to the Dublin branch of my family! And, again, it is an ‘easy’ night for me, as we are celebrating (two weeks late, for various reasons) Suchitta’s birthday. This has involved a day of preparation and cooking (Vimalasri, Momtaz and myself volunteered to be the three Chefs!), followed by a late – but delicious – meal. It’s always a fun time when we celebrate birthdays here – all the presents and cards are brought out and ‘paraded’ around the table, accompanied by many ‘oohs and aahs’ and, often, much hilarity – and tonight was no exception. But it was nearly 10pm by the time the ‘party’ broke up – so time for bed!
As I look back over this diary, what do I see? I see that I become aware of my tiredness when I’m not distracting myself with the internet. I see that I notice quietness – and enjoy it. I see that I feel more ‘spacious’ which leads to an increased willingness to be spontaneous in my choices, to engage more with the community. All these are things that I appreciate – even delight in – and I fully intend to ensure that I place more boundaries around my internet use…and make sure that my free time really does become ‘free’.