Rethinking the Retreat

Ahhhhhhhhhhh. Relaxed. Rejuvenated. Refreshed.

Recently returned from a full week of self-care at Rancho La Puerta, many elements made me very happy there: the delectable organic vegetarian meals, the warmth of the Mexican air, the 6:30am hiking up sacred mountains, the daily stretch class, the laughter-filled afternoons by the pool with new friends. But THE VERY BEST part? Being offline. Ahhhhhhhhhhh.  

Off. Line. As in, no electronic communications for a full week. I admit I used my iPhone once to make one photo on the last day, quickly returning my phone to its "Cell Phone Sleeping Bag" that came with my welcome packet.

The pretty pouch came with a card that read, in part: "We invite you to use your Ranch stay to find balance in your digital life. This is the perfect week to set some boundaries. To unplug. We all have great reasons to be online all the time. But we rarely get opportunities to be mindful of how technology is ruling us -- and to make choices about its place in our lives."

When I returned home and told my friend Sophia about being offline for an entire week, she looked at me sideways, with an anxious tilt of her head. I could see her brain trying to understand how that would work, what that would look like. "An entire week?" she exclaimed! She, like most of us, could not fathom being offline. All of our lives are filled with so much "connectivity."

Why go offline? Simply, because it's good for us. Because being offline calms our nervous system, which is usually ... well ... nervous. Because instead of "connecting" with the virtual world inside our computers and devices, when we're offline we actually connect with our immediate surroundings, with the people who are actually with us, with nature, and with ourselves.

I recently saw an excellent show on technology addiction and the benefits of nature on National Geographic channel's "Call of the Wild" show, highly recommended. 

There's also a new documentary "Screenagers" that highlights the perils of screen time and how to manage them. We are ALL screenagers when it comes to our devices, texting, the Face, Pinterest, etc (and other times, too!).

So how can we "Oh, Behave!" regarding technology? How to establish healthy boundaries with our iPhone, iPad, laptop, desktop, computer games, and our wifi lives? How to digital detox?

I am patting myself heartily on the back just for changing my charging station to another room instead of right by my bed. Instead, I now greet the day with reverence and spaciousness in my soul, instead of assaulting my senses with the emails in my phone as soon as my eyes open. 

Like home meditation or yoga practices, relying on our own initiative can prove challenging. Which is why we take classes or go on retreat.

Media maven and Webby Awards founder Tiffany Shlain and her family suggest a technology shabbat. Or perhaps attend Camp Grounded summer camp for adults for "off-the-grid fun" where technology is not allowed, at all. 

I've decided that at Firefly Institute, which is a photography camp and also a retreat, we will be offline for four days ... mostly! We will have a "Tech Corner" for those campers who absolutely must be online. And we will certainly be using our iPhone cameras and our laptops for Lightroom and Photoshop!! And of course, campers will be reachable at all times via camp staff! Yet ... Our time at camp is a place that enables learning and friendships to flourish. We'll encourage campers to take this opportunity to be offline in order to fully engage with each other, the beautiful ranch, the time, the air, the smells, the birdsong, themselves, and their creative inner worlds.

I predict that our Firefly campers will, at first, freak out! Then they will put their phones on airplane mode so they can use their phone cameras without being distracted by emails, texts and notifications. But for a few hours, they'll be jonesing for JUST ONE MORE TEXT MESSAGE! And then they will sink, slowly, in to the luxurious space that being offline offers. And I predict they'll be grateful for the experience.


On our last night at Rancho La Puerta, someone placed her phone on the dining table after making a few photos. In my imagination, her iPhone turned into a loaded gun; I felt assaulted! I asked her to put it away, wanting to luxuriate in the final hours of being free from devices.

However we can create our own space away from technology, we can be sure that it's good for us. The scarier it sounds, the more we probably need to do it. Please share with us your experiments in finding balance in your digital life!