A Beginner’s Mind: Insights from my Digital Sabbatical

by Tammy Strobel on August 1, 2011

The sun was doing it’s best to poke through the gray clouds, albeit unsuccessfully. I was perched on a bar stool, sipping coffee, and savoring a freshly baked cranberry muffin at Sunny Day Coffee. Sunny Day is one of my favorite spots to enjoy coffee, write, and people watch.

I was feeling a little lonely and having a hard time focusing on writing because my mind kept coming back to Russ and Laura’s interview with Dan Price. Dan talked about how people want to have depth in their lives. Unfortunately, our culture isn’t set up that way. So many people want more and more stuff. But the thing is all that stuff costs money and time.

He went onto to say, “You have one chance to make your life a work of art. Kick ass and just do it! Don’t do what everyone else is doing.”

Dan’s remark sums up the reason why I took a digital sabbatical. The Internet brings me an incredible amount of happiness. I love connecting with readers, writers, and keeping up with friends and family. But if I spend too much time online, I start feeling unhappy, dissatisfied, and disconnected from the real world, which means I’m not making my life a work of art.

During the month of July, time seemed to warp and bend around me. Some days moved really quickly and other days moved along at a snails pace. Even though I experienced moments of loneliness, taking a break from the digital world was refreshing and centering. Sometimes stillness and silence is the best way to harness creativity. As Tenzin Priyadarshi notes:

“If there is no stillness,
there is no silence.

If there is no silence,
there is no insight.

If there is no insight,
there is no clarity.”

***

Many of you sent me thank you notes and words of encouragement during my sabbatical. Thank you! In addition, I received a number of questions about the sabbatical. I’ll do my best to answer your inquires below:

Question: What was the hardest part of unplugging? And what was the most surprising part?

Answer: At the start of the sabbatical, I felt isolated because I use my email to stay connected with friends and family in California and in other parts of the country. For example, I missed emailing my friend Chris frequently. On the other hand, checking my email less meant that I made more phone calls. In essence, my loneliness was a symptom of Internet withdrawals. I have a lot of awesome friends in Portland, but I learned over the month that I need to make more time for them.

The most surprising outcome of unplugging? Taking frequent power naps. According to the National Sleep Foundation, Americans say they sleep less than 7 hours a night. I used to be part of that group when I worked at a traditional day job. I’d often day dream about napping in the corner or putting a cot in my cubicle. Now that I work from home I have the option to nap more often. During my sabbatical, I took 20 minute power naps in the afternoon and I’m going to make napping part of my daily routine.

Question: What did you focus on during July?

Answer: Even though I worked a lot, I felt like I was on a super long vacation. I wrote roughly 45,000 words for my print book. I didn’t finish a draft manuscript, and I still have a lot of work to do, but the good news is the book is coming together.

I also read over a dozen books! Some of my favorite reads included: 168 Hours, In the Neighborhood, The Joy of Living, I Thought It Was Just Me, The Girl Who Chased the Moon, The Winter Sea, and How to Make A Journal of Your Life. I’m also re-reading the Harry Potter series.

The most exciting part of July was watching our little house go up. The house is being built in Gig Harbor, a cute little community just south of Seattle. Tentatively, construction will be completed by November 1st, just in time for my 33rd birthday. We haven’t figured out where we’re going to park it yet. But I’m not worried. I have a feeling everything is going to fall into place.

Check out the photos!

Question: Will you make any changes to your work flow, as a result of the sabbatical?

Answer: Multitasking erodes my mental circuitry. So focusing on single-tasking will be part of my workflow and I will continue tracking the amount of time I spend online. Also, I’m still planning on using Freedom to keep myself in check. Freedom is an application that locks you away from the Internet for up to 8 hours at a time and it’s helped me stay focused over the last month.

In addition, I’ve decided to stop posting my weekly news update every Friday. Instead, I’ll post one update at the end of each month. I’ve scaled back my online reading dramatically, so doing an update once a month makes sense. I will still be publishing at least one essay a week on RowdyKittens. I’m giving myself more flexibility when it comes to publishing content on the open web.

As I move forward into the rest of the year, I’m looking at everything from a “beginner’s mind.” It’s a concept used frequently by my yoga teachers and refers to having an attitude of openness, flexibly, and non-judgment. In Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind Shunryu Suzuki says, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”

I’d love to hear from you! Have you unplugged this month? If so, how has the experience felt?

***

Resources

If you’re considering taking a sabbatical, here are a few resources:

Taking a July Digital Sabbatical: Why & How
Everything You Need to Know About a Digital Sabbatical
– Be sure to check out Gwen Bell’s site. She’s the person who inspired me to take a break from the Internet. :)

1 Thomas August 1, 2011

I’ve recently begun my active approach to shedding what’s unnecessary. I discovered your site through my love of bicycling: I’m about ready to take the plunge again and, as soon as the bicycle is back from the shop, go car-light again.

Not a wide-scale disconnect, but recently I’ve unplugged from television. At first it seemed easy…too easy. The television’s unplugged, the xbox that doubled as a dvd player is boxed up, the Netflix account is cancelled. The hard part came over the past couple days when I banned myself from Hulu and deleted my account. I’ve discovered reading again…and fireflies. I love watching fireflies!

2 Tammy August 2, 2011

@Thomas – Thanks for reading! :) And yay for biking! Going car-lite is a fantastic option.

Try not to give into the Hulu withdrawals. I promise it will get easier. :) I stayed out on Sauvie Island at a friends house last week and I loved watching all the wildlife. Observing the birds, deer, and other little creatures were much better than being plugged in.

Enjoy your time reading and watching fireflies. :)

3 Caroline McGraw / A Wish Come Clear August 1, 2011

Tammy, congratulations! It’s good to have you ‘back’, but glad you took a break, too.

I’ve designated Sundays as Internet-free day…that is, I don’t check email, read how-to materials, or check Facebook and Twitter. I may watch a movie or read if I’m inspired to, but that’s it.

Designating a ‘free’ day has helped me to get outside more, to call people on the phone (as you noted) and to do focused writing. It’s also helped me develop the discipline it takes to disconnect at other times, too!

Looking forward to the little house! My husband and I recently moved to a tiny(er) apartment, and I’ve been thinking of you + Logan as we’ve settled into our cozy space. :)

4 Tammy August 2, 2011

Thanks Caroline! It’s great you’re taking one day off a week. It’s so important to build that time into your schedule.

Congratulations on the move to a “tine(er) apartment.” :)

5 traci sabia August 1, 2011

1ST and foremost id like to say YIPPY your back :)
You have been extremely missed. My mother passed away unexpectedly the day before your time away from us. Unplanned but needed it became my time away from the internet as well for a little while. I disconnected in many ways. I came to realize that i wasnt missing much when i plugged back in. i spent time and still spend time taking care of my dad (my mom did EVERYTHING for him so now its up to me), spending time with my two girls , ava and ella, and even spending more time with the hubby.
The importance of that time away to take it all in, breath, mediatate, do nothing…is so needed and it helps one to become a better person, wife, husband, friend, listener, etc…
Thank you for setting the gears in motion for us all. I am so happy that you came back to us and look forward to your insight, stories and pictures of your month off and the coming months. all my love to you and your hubby. ~traci~

6 Tammy August 2, 2011

Traci – Thanks for the kind words. I’m so sorry to hear about your mom. Losing a family member is never easy. It’s great you’re making the time to spend with Ava and Ella and that you’re able to help your dad too. Wishing you and your family all the best.

7 Steve Marquez August 1, 2011

Good to have you back Tammy – all refreshed. Congrats on 45k words too – that’s quite something. I have yet to have a full on break from all things internet for a long period like a month. At present I’m working on mini-breaks during each week i.e. a full day off. I find it really helps in focusing on what’s really important i.e. those closest to me, and spending quality time with them. Also means we can actually go outside and do stuff (which is always a bonus)!

Steve

8 Tammy August 2, 2011

Thanks Steve! Yeah, I wrote a lot and still have more writing + editing to do. Writing this book had been like running a marathon. It’s slow going and I’m hoping the end result will be worth it.

Congratulations on taking the mini-breaks! Spending time with friends, family, and exploring the natural world is the best!

9 Amber August 1, 2011

Tammy, I waited patiently, like I know many readers did, for today’s post. It was worth the wait! You had so many tips to share and I am so glad that you shared them right away! You addressed so many of the common problems and inspired me in many ways! (Congrats on the progress on your print book and the house construction!) Although I was sad you were taking a break, after seeing how good it was for you it makes my heart sing! Congrats on an awesome vacation and I think your new schedule, omitting the weekly news update, etc. are great ideas! :) We support you all the way and we’ll all keep reading!

10 Tammy August 2, 2011

Yay! I’m happy that it was helpful. Writing the book has been such a process and I have a lot more work to do. But I’m excited. Thank you for the support Amber!

11 Brenda August 1, 2011

WOW! Congratulations and welcome back. You’re blog reminds me to never compromise on my dreams. Today is August 1st and I feel like it’s time to change some not so good habits, like cutting out dairy and walking more. I know these are not internet sabbatical goals, but it’s a start.

P.S. I think I’m gonna try and read one of the Harry Potter books for the first time ever.

12 Tammy August 2, 2011

Right on Brenda! And yay for Harry Potter. :) The books are a lot of fun!

13 Yvonne August 1, 2011

Thank you for the inspiration, Tammy. So wonderful. Your house looks great! If you guys ever wanna move to the east (Maine), we have a tiny house and tiny farm on a Community Land Trust that we created to unown the land and make it available to people for free….Love to have you. And I love reading your words. As a mama and farmer who doesn’t have the time, but is slowly working up the nerve to put my writing out there on a blog…yours continues to fuel the vision.
LOVE,
Yvonne

14 Tammy August 2, 2011

Yvonne – Thanks for the offer! That’s really sweet. Maine is beautiful, but I don’t think we’ll be moving to the east coast anytime soon. It’s too far away from family. :) Although, I do have a cousin in Portland, Maine. :) Wishing you all the best.

15 Chris November 1, 2011

Yvonne,

We are building a tiny house on the east coast and are looking for just such a place–please email us your contact info whenever you have a chance, we’d love to hear more about your spot and vision!

16 Meg | One Love Meg August 1, 2011

Welcome Back. I told you I would be here for when you returned. Looking forward to reading your posts and hearing more about your sabbatical. Sounds like you got a lot done in a relaxing atmosphere. Just perfect.

17 Sandra / Always Well Within August 1, 2011

Hi Tammy,

Congratulations on successfully accomplishing your one month sabbatical. I appreciate the lessons you’ve learned. So many of us are trying to find the right balance when it comes to internet engagement. Often, unplugging shows us the way or at least some new options.

I took one week for a loving kindness meditation retreat – a personal retreat at home – and corresponding digital sabbatical. It was very nourishing. I rediscovered precisely how much solitude feeds me as in the beautiful quote you have shared.

The challenge now is coming back and preserving and applying the integrity of what I have learned. It’s easy to slip back into old habits, but the truth is that time is limited and life doesn’t last forever. So I won’t to get my priorities straight and live the most meaningful and helpful life popular. I will be writing about my own insights in my coming Sunday post.

I support you in shifting your weekly roundup to a monthly posts. And it looks like you are aiming to post once a week now. Good luck with your changes and thanks for your insights.

18 Krystal August 1, 2011

It’s good to have you back, Tammy! Been waiting ever so patiently for this August 1st entry. Once again, a great, insightful, and inspiring post. Also, your tiny house is looking really great! I can’t wait to see it in its final stages.

19 Sherri Dunham August 1, 2011

One of the things I’m looking forward to (and somewhat dreading at the same time) are forced digital sabbaticals in Costa Rica when the power and internet randomly go out for up to days at a time. Like your uncertainty and assuredness about where your little house will be, I also feel pretty good that things are going to turn out just fine. We held a “buy our stuff sale” this past weekend with family and friends and it was so fun to sell our stuff to them! Things are going to be great. Can’t wait to see your little house come together even more! I’m sure you’ll find a charming little (or big) plot for it.

20 Tanja August 2, 2011

Welcome back Tammy. And it sounds like your sabbatical was a beautiful month of rejuvenation and reflection. Congratulations on those 45,000 words and on the tiny house project. I hopped over to flickr and looked at your photos. It looks like everyone really enjoyed getting those side walls up.

I think it’s great you’re approaching your blog with “beginner’s mind”. I’ve been working on “beginner’s mind” as well. I’ve been spending a lot of time contemplating my online time vs real world time. Lately real world life has been gently asking for more of me…. so there’s a gentle pulling back from online obligations. Thank you for sharing your perspective on it, it really helps me right now as I discover the balance point. :)

21 Dawn Gorman August 2, 2011

Tammy,
Loved this post. Thanks so much for sharing your experience with us. I’m glad to hear you had a relaxing experience and your withdrawals weren’t too intense. I am very excited to check out all the books you are reading! I look forward to hearing more of your insights from your experience, especially how it feels to be back after you have been reconnected for awhile.

Peace,
Dawn

P.S. I am so excited for your tiny house! I can hardly stand it!

22 Mallory August 2, 2011

Welcome back, Tammy! I’m happy to hear that you enjoyed your digital sabbatical and we’re all glad to have you back :) I’m in Alaska right now and have been enjoying a bit of a break from the digital world. I was trying really hard to stay connected – even in this remote location – when I realized that it was simply better to let go and enjoy this very real and unique moment. As always thank you for inspiring me to live in the moment.

23 Gwyn Michael August 3, 2011

Welcome back Tammy! I am on a digital diet for August and it is helpful to hear how your sabbatical worked. I think many of us are struggling with information overload that detracts from LIVING. The little house is looking great. So exciting!

24 pea August 3, 2011

welcome back – what a beautiful poem. I shall of course steal it!

25 Alex August 3, 2011

Welcome back! Glad to see your tiny house coming along. I’ve said this before, but I love the pop out window.

26 Tess The Bold Life August 4, 2011

Hi Tammy,
Love the new photo of you with your lovely tattoo. I’m so glad you’re back and can’t wait to check out the books you’ve read. You continue to amaze and inspire me. I appreciate that! xoxo

27 Byronious August 4, 2011

Hi Tammy,

your words are truly inspiring to help me – I’m often struggling and overwhelmed by life’s challenges – reading your blog post really help give me a good dose of much needed perspective on life and more.

Grateful to the work that you do,

Byronious

28 Natalie August 4, 2011

Tammy,

I’ve enjoyed your blog for a while now without commenting. I have decided it’s time to give you some appreciation, and let you know what a great job you’re doing! :) It’s nice to see that you are back from your sabbatical, and to see the results of your unplugging. I really enjoy the fact that you don’t confine yourself to a certain way of doing things, and that you are always reassessing your practices, what is best for you, etc. I think your readers really benefit from seeing how you work your way through the process of change.

You’ve also inspired me to stop through Portland on my way to Seattle for my upcoming vacation. I can’t wait to see the city (as I’ve seen glimpses of it posted on your blog).

On a final note, I love your new photo of yourself. Your tattoo is beautiful :)

Thank you for all of your thoughtful blog posts and the best of luck with your new house!

Natalie

29 Tammy August 4, 2011

@Natalie – Thanks for leaving your first comment! :) It’s great to hear from you. I think you’ll love Portland. It’s a beautiful city. And thank you for the kind words. I really appreciate it. :)

30 Tammy August 4, 2011

I came back from a three week vacation where I had almost no internet or cell phone use. That meant coming home to 600 emals. And I hated it….a few emails were important to me but I knew if I could live without email for three weeks then another month or more would be okay too. So I found Leo’s Focus ebook and then deleted or disabled all my email accounts!…..I’ve had an awesome week since then. I’ve sat on my screen in porch and listened to birds. I called people on the phone to talk. I’ve purged a trash can full of stuff. My computer/filing desk has half the stuff it used to have. I’m extending this email “vacation” as long as I can. I also plan on disconnecting my internet line from the back of the computer and coiling it up and putting it in the drawer except for “planned” internet usage so I can break the habit.

31 Tammy August 4, 2011

@Tammy – WOW! 600 emails! That is insane. Sometimes it’s best to just declare email bankruptcy and start over. I found Leo’s book to be super helpful too. :)

Enjoy the birds and your time outside. Life is grand isn’t it? :)

Wishing you all the best.

32 Chris O'Byrne August 5, 2011

Your friend, Chris, missed you, too!

Very little of our busy life is important and so much of our quiet life is.

Thanks for another amazingly wonderful post!

33 Janice MacLeod August 5, 2011

I started sweating after you mentioned using Freedom. That takes balls, girl. I’m inspired by this. I’m taking a two week digital sabbatical soon and I’m already freaked about it. I’m glad to read of your success with it. Great essay, also.

34 Tammy August 6, 2011

@Janice – If I can do, so can you. The first few days will be hard, but it gets better the farther you get into the sabbatical. Keep me posted on how it goes!

35 rob August 7, 2011

I no longer have a TV (16 months now) and I’m beginning to look at my smartphone with “I can shut you off in December” thoughts..

http://www.gocomics.com/nonsequitur#mutable_655378

36 Rose August 18, 2011

So glad you’re back! I was forced into a short digital sabbatical recently when our modem broke and it took us two weeks to replace it. We had decided to unplug our television for the summer, but realized when the internet went out that we were only so ready and willing to unplug the TV because we used our computers as entertainment. It was very interesting to experience the unexpected “withdrawals.” In the end, we had lots of fantastic conversations that I’m sure we would have never made it around to having otherwise and, of course, there was a lot of reading going on. The interesting thing is that I still haven’t returned to Facebook. I’m kind of grossed out be it now, after only two weeks of being away.

37 Tammy August 18, 2011

Thanks Rose. :) I know what you mean about Facebook. I stopped using my personal account and now I just have a fan page for the blog. I love social networking sites, but I don’t spend much time on them anymore. I’d rather use that time for writing, reading, and hiking in the forest. :)

Thanks for reading and leaving a comment. I appreciate it!

38 Katie of Momentum Gathering August 21, 2011

Tammy, I’m with you. I took almost two months off from my online life. The world did not stop, I didn’t miss much (that I know of), I gained lots of subscribers, I spent time staring at sunsets and waves, and I reconnected with my own voice. Not so much my writing voice but my sense of what it is I want, what I value, what I have to say, who I am and how to move forward (the internet can begin to sway and play with those truths). I haven’t got it all figured out by any means but I know silence, nature and space are what I need more of than the repetitive and ceaseless flow that online life can become. Sandra (Always Well Within) has written a great article about setting limits around digital overwhelm (see http://alwayswellwithin.com/2011/08/21/a-step-by-step-guide-to-overcoming-digital-overwhelm/ ). I hope more people do.

39 Tammy August 22, 2011

@Katie – Thanks for stopping by! I’m happy you are back in the digital world. I’ve come to similar realizations too. The world keeps going, even if you’re not online. :) I’ve spent the last week writing and playing in Lake Tahoe. I haven’t been online much, but I’m okay with that. I need more silence, space, and time in nature too.

Thanks for linking to Sandra’s article! I’ll check it out.

40 Katie October 2, 2011

Very well spoken Tammy, a great experiment to discover exactly what your relationship and dependency is on the interweb. How amazing the way in which it’s completely infiltrated our lives – the most mind-blowingly great invention…..but what does too much of it take away from real life?….Balance is key in all of this :) I love the poem, I’m going to write that down in my little book of good things.
Katie. xxx

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