Two seagulls seem to be scolding me . . . it sounds like they are saying “Where is my lunch?” “Don’t you have food to give me NOW?”
I am sitting at a small table outside a studio unit on a Pacific beach in Hahei, New Zealand, an end of the road driving destination, yet ironically, far more connected than I have been for the last week to people and activities back home in the states. I am using the next few days to recover from my holiday of last week–a guided walk along the Milford Track–one of the 20 best walks in the world in the Fjordland of New Zealand. The Track is officially 33.5 miles long, spread out over three days of walking through beech tree forests, up and over Mackinnon Pass, and undulating temperate rain forests.
For a novice walker like me, it offered adventure and challenge–narrow, slick zigzags up the mountain; rocky, steep declines & flooded rock beds to cross going down; cold temperatures (hey, I’m from FL–45 degrees is cold!) and 35 MPH wind gusts as I approached and crossed Mackinnon Pass. Did I say that I carried a 15 pound backpack and liter of water/camera (3 lbs+) with me everywhere? Although I walked mainly by myself (my husband did not go and I was on a different pace from the 23 hikers in our group), at critical times, suddenly, quietly, one of the three guides would appear–Logan, Fe, or Akiko. They would raise my flagging spirit with frequent “Well done” encouragements, entertaining conversation, offers of hot chocolate, hot tea and respite from the elements in “huts” along the route, and showed me how to navigate the many shallow streams that had come with the rain. Once my well-being was secure, they roamed to help other walkers as needed and joyously perform a long to-do task list.
It was also a time without distraction because I had no, nada, zippo access to the internet or voice communications. The Milford Track does not have a cell tower anywhere. Can you believe it? No way to call anyone, no way to scout weather reports beyond the “promising” written on the chalkboard in the lodge, no way to check-in with family members, no way to read Lisa’s latest blog post or find March Madness scores for five days. But the isolation had a clear upside, too.
Freedom from Check-in Communications
I could not talk with Lisa; Bentley, my husband; my sisters, or anyone else in my family taking care of pets or work. They knew that I could not call them. It was okay. If something happened to them, they would have to deal with it on their own. If emergencies happened, I knew someone would contact Bentley, he would call Ultimate Hikes and they would radio in essential information to me. Likewise, if something happened to me, no one but me and the people around me could deal with it, and other communications would happen in reverse. Knowing that I could not check-in eased my sense of responsibility to everyone elsewhere. We were on parallel tracks in life for five days.
Freedom to Focus on My Needs
The longest hike I had been on before lasted 6 hours with someone at my side. This hike lasted four days with hours of walking by myself. I was not lonely though. Walking required me to concentrate on the moment: how to position the next step up or step down, for instance. I also had to skill up fast within the walking culture. The guides and other hikers helped me. For instance, stuffing my backpack to keep things handy that I might need during the day as weather changed or hot spots flared up on my feet. Strapping on the backpack to optimize the weight distribution was critical to do right. The order of business when I reached the lodge in the late afternoon: boots off (outside), clothes off (inside shower room), shower (with heavenly hot water), dress in my “lodge outfit,” hand wash my hiking clothes, run them through the old-fashioned manual wringer, and drape my clothing in the “drying room.” Then I could join my colleagues in the common room to review the day and dine together. Long before the electricity went off at 10:00 PM, I was lying supine in a multi-bed room, torch (flashlight) close by if I needed to use the restroom accessible by an outside covered porch. The new and invigorating environment required my full attention.
It also reminded me that we need more variations of the breath of joy that Lisa introduced in this blog in December 2014. That is, hours spent at the computer can be hours well spent. But we need strong bodies afforded by physical movement and exercise, too. There is an elemental mind-body connection that leads to greater health overall. As Lisa said then, “Research shows that those who move, do better, achieve more, and feel better and more satisfied.” If I had spent less time at the computer, and more hours walking and building stronger muscles BEFORE my NZ trip, I would have managed the physical demands more easily and enjoyed my surroundings more. And I wouldn’t be quite so sore now.
Freedom to Focus on the Here and Now
New Zealand and the Milford Track flaunt at least fifty shades of green! The South Island of New Zealand is incredibly beautiful; my adjectives for the Milford Track are “magnificent,” “majestic,” and “gorgeous.” Not having to worry about charging my tablet, phone, or laptop and then using one to engage mindfully elsewhere meant I could immerse myself in learning about the environment. Here is a New Zealand Bush Robin who became my mascot for a mile or so. They are curious and happy to see people because our feet disturb the earth to reveal grubs and other tasty tidbits for them.
I became acquainted with interesting people from New Zealand, China, Canada, Australia, and the U.S. From Jersey cow dairy farmers to college professors to financial planners, ministers, and doctors, we talked about our lives. We shared fears, hopes, and philosophies. One woman gave me a useful perspective. Her adult son, when advised that she was joining her husband to walk the Milford track told her: “Mom, the Milford Track is often cold and wet. You can be cold, wet, and miserable. Or you can be cold and wet. It’s your choice as to how you want to experience it.” Consequently, I was cold and wet but never miserable. Thus, we lived appreciatively with each other and the environment.
What Does It Mean?
This blog post is long on personal experience and short on technology knowledge and skills. But I just had a major life adventure. And I am reminded anew that we need time to think, ponder, and just be to savor where we are, what we are doing right now, who we are with…like Ed Sheeran’s song, Thinking Out Loud, says, “maybe we found love right where we are.”
Our lives can be enhanced with technology. Mine is all the time but there is also a time to turn the technology off. Don’t replace the TV for entertainment or distraction with the tablet or phone at the dinner table or in the kitchen. Instead, please watch this Ted Talk by MIT professor Sherry Turkle to use technology more mindfully in your life.
Additionally, Joshua Becker at becomingminimalist captures my feelings at this time very well. He said:
4. Life, at its best, is happening right in front of you. Our world may be changing. But the true nature of life is not. Life, at its best, is happening right in front of you. These experiences will never repeat themselves. These conversations are unfiltered and authentic. And the love is real. But if we are too busy staring down at our screen, we’re gonna miss all of it.
7. Life is still about flesh, blood, and eye contact. There are valuable resources online to help us grow and evolve. I have been enriched by the connections I have made and the friends I have met. But no matter how much I interact with others through the miracle of technology, there is something entirely unique and fantastic about meeting face-to-face. The experience of looking another person in the eye without the filter of a screen changes everything. Each time, I am reminded that life’s most fulfilling relationships are the ones in the world right in front of me. And spending too much time looking away from them does a great disadvantage to my soul and theirs.
Finally, the NZ Jucy camper van rental company advertisement asserts that “the glass is half full, and the other half was delicious.”
How are you keeping your glass half full with the right balance of connections in mental and physical pursuits, online and offline?
We would love to know your formula for living life well, perhaps aided by technology to tell your story after it happens.
All photos from Doris’ New Zealand adventures