This past weekend, we went camping at a state park less than two hours from our home. I love camping. It’s a chance to get away from the hectic pace of life, it’s an opportunity to spend time with family, and it’s a way to build lasting memories with my husband and children.
On Friday, within 10 miles of the campground, the smartphone I had been using to occupy my mind on the drive (instead of talking to my family) lost service. “Ok, no service this weekend. That’s fine,” I figured. As it turns out, this small adjustment to our weekend ended up being a huge eye-opener for me.
With cell phone service seemingly everywhere, we are usually able to use our phones when camping. I fully admit I have a mild cell phone addiction, although I was under the impression that I was not letting it affect my interactions with my family. I now suspect I was wrong. The harsher realization I came to, however, was just how much I was damaging my relationship with myself.
Within the first few hours, after unpacking and setting up, I found my mind instinctively turning to my phone over and over. I had left it in the truck, determined to spend the weekend electronics free. Several times, during conversation, a topic would come up and I would want to immediately look it up online. Jim would mention a small object that would have come in handy if we had one and I would instinctively think “let me see how much it is on Amazon.” I was shocked at how many times I felt vulnerable during times of waiting: waiting for 7yo to finish using the restroom, waiting for dinner to be ready, waiting for Jim and the kids to return from a walk. Usually at times like these, had I access to my phone, I would have instinctively grabbed it to fill those moments.
What I discovered, after an initial period of adjustment, was how much clearer my mind became without my phone. I had figured a “phone detox” would be good for me, but I hadn’t realized just how distracted I had become by my constant phone use. I was shocked at how in-the-moment I felt during everything we did as compared to before. I was surprised at how our conversations became deeper and more thoughtful. I never would have guessed my phone was having such an effect on my mind and I’m saddened to think of how long I’ve been living with such a distraction.
As we returned to service, I immediately checked both our phones for texts and emails. Within a few hours of being home, I was acutely aware of how cluttered my mind was becoming again. As I got ready for bed that evening, instead of plugging my phone in at my nightstand so that it was immediately available if I couldn’t sleep, I plugged it in across the room and switched it to “airplane mode.” When I awoke in the middle of the night and couldn’t immediately fall back to sleep, it took everything I had to not get up and grab it to keep my mind occupied. Instead, I remained in bed with just my thoughts and was reminded why I had begun turning to my phone in the first place. Worries, anxieties, and concerns all began to overwhelm my undistracted mind. After what seemed like hours, I finally calmed my mind enough to fall asleep. As I was drifting off, I realized how much I had been using my phone to hide from myself and I was determined to no longer run from my thoughts by burying my face in a screen.
I imagine learning to curb my cell phone use will be a daily challenge, at which I will fail regularly. What this weekend taught me is that, while I had not been so engrossed in my phone to miss out on the big things in life, it was the small every-day moments I had been missing – a look, a feeling, a stray thought, a breath of fresh air. I am now determined to live those moments with my head up.