“Seeking sometime missing. Missing something left behind…
…Maybe with good luck, we’ll find what eluded us in the places we once called home.”The French Dispatch
Today marks three years to the day since I first left home and set out for greener pastures. I surrendered my two-bedroom apartment in Pilsen, Chicago, and hauled two full-sized duffel bags and a hiker’s pack with me to catch my flight to Caribbean costal Mexico.
I was eager to make something of myself, and determined to find what I was lacking in my circumstance. Little did I know, what I was searching for was right in front of the me the entire time.
Sometimes, we just need a change of scenery to realize that and rediscover ourselves. Or maybe simply just a reprieve from all the digital stimulation we encounter day in and out.
After enough exposure to external stimuli you begin to identify with them, and your self-identity starts to falter.
Shutting off your digital devices gives your mind a vacation, a return to your world. You then are able to rediscover yourself, and things you enjoyed in (what may feel like) a former life.
Maybe the most effective – though for many, drastic – measure to bring you back there is by killing the power.
Forced Isolation with Your Mind
The infrastructure in Mexico isn’t quite what it is in the States, and during the various bouts I’ve lived there dating back to 2019, I’ve been subject to several blackouts of differing timespans.
When you don’t know how long you’ll be without electricity, you want to use the batteries on your devices as little as possible—these include laptops, phones and lights, primarily.
You therefore are forced to be alone with your mind, or at least occupy it with pre-20th century activities, like reading, writing, exercising, and cleaning. You could add cooking to the mix, but because you want to conserve the cold in the fridge, you really want to delay opening it until absolutely necessary.
Granted, it’s not entirely like you’re liking in the 1800s because you still have an Internet-enabled smartphone for emergency use and listening to podcasts and things you had downloaded to the device for offline listening if you were prepared—but it’s almost as close as you can get.
I’m embarrassed to admit that the most recent time this came to pass was rather difficult on me. Without devices, I didn’t know what to do with myself; like I didn’t know who I was anymore. It was a pretty sad discovery, but certainly eye-opening.
Clinging to the little semblance of the outside world I had left, I started listening to a podcast I had downloaded on my phone in airplane mode. Though I had been attempting to get back into a daily creative writing routine (rap lyrics), creating took a backseat to consumption.
I added writing to my mental to-do list while without electric, along with resuming the book I had sometime along the put down, Spontaneous Healing by Dr. Andrew Weil, but the podcast consumption took precedent.
However, I never got around to these activities (though I did write several bars later on for the sake of making good on the task) because to power cut back on about 15 minutes into my listening session.
The first impulse you have when power resumes is typically a good indicator of your most pronounced current infatuation. Mine was to continue listening to the podcast, but via YouTube and my laptop so I could get some visuals (even though I’m well aware the visual element detracts from my engagement with the auditory informational content).
My secondary impulse was to watch the Stanley Cup Playoffs game replay from the previous night. Had it been the nighttime, when I opt for less mentally-engaging and more meditative activities, this may have been my primary impulse over educational material.
So evidently, it seems information is what I’m currently fixated with, or at least fortunately has a slight edge over entertainment. However, my go-to is still consuming rather than creating—something I’m now aware that I need to change in order to get back to my past, fulfilled self.
Returning to Your World
Stillness of the mind keeps you in the present, preventing you from treading on the past or romanticizing the future. Eventually, it may bring you face-to-face with your emotional suffering, where you’re lacking inside—and the external things you may be using to fill the void.
We read magazines and watch television, we try and find something to eat. We listen to music, we pick up the phone to talk. Everything we do is because we hope by doing these things, we don’t have to confront the suffering inside us. And we allow that pain continue to grow in us.
…so mindfulness practice helps us go home to the present moment, even if it is not pleasant. But it is in that very moment that we can understand the suffering, and that we can find a way to calm it down and transform it.Thich Nhat Hahn
Just being free of stimulation and distraction allows you to be present, and have mental clarity. It may provide you insights on the obstructions you’re currently fixated with preventing you from being your organic, contented self.
This downtime is also conducive to self-reflection. And I’m talking constructive reflection here, not depressive self-rumination.
When you reflect, you can determine what is missing from your life that kept you centered—maybe memories from when you had a different life altogether.
I had to come to grips with the fact I’d been using sports viewing as a way to fill the void left by the absence of other activities I used to hold sacred and supported my wellbeing—things like playing records my vinyl collection, skateboarding, volunteering at the community garden, and just not working at a desk or staring at a screen for eight hours a day.
In addition to filling this whole, watching things was causing me stress, as I was constantly grappling with subpar wifi strength and resulting streaming quality (when I could stream video) that was giving me an ulcer.
I had a similar realization when partaking in a prolonged “monk fast” (36 hours). I typically fast 16-24 hours, and for the one-day fast I often spend the better part of the afternoon pondering what to break it with when dinnertime rolled around.
However, as I wasn’t eating anything for the entirety of the day, I wasn’t supposed to have this preoccupation. But on the contrary, it was enlightening how many instances there were where my mind defaulted to food during that span, especially as a source of pleasure instead of as sustenance for the body.
And how my eating habits coincided with mindless entertainment indulgences. The two seemed to go hand-in-hand.
My insight was that I would justify YouTube or sports viewing by telling myself that since I was sitting down to a meal, or rather simply taking a break from work (either my editor role for Attainable Home or just blogging for myself), the distraction was warranted.
Without food in the equation I felt guilty consuming content, even it if was informational. As if, for the sake of productivity, I shouldn’t have this downtime.
In the spirit of reflection, I recalled back to a period while living in Chicago when my dinner often consisted of a bagel with peanut butter on one half and cream cheese smeared on the other, and a small spinach salad with olive oil and sea salt as a dressing.
I would scarf it down and get on with my night, either going out to skateboard, producing or djing music, volunteering at the garden, or posting up at the townie bar across the street—and I felt none the worse considering the massive inflammatory effects of a bagel with conventional PB.
Again, I came to realize my obsessive thoughts about food resulted from the void left my the gradual removal of these endeared pastimes from my life.
Using Self-Reflection (in Moderation) to Restore Balance
To help pinpoint where your life is lacking, reflect on the conditions present when you were happiest, your life the most harmonious and balanced. For me, this was around 2017-2018.
I continued to recall these times—back to when I felt a sense of community, belonging (to a tribe). As mentioned, these were the days when I enjoyed skateboarding and made friends through it, and would dj vinyl-only gigs with my roommate (or just play vinyl at home).
I also remembered how I felt when volunteering at the neighborhood community garden in Pilsen—the benefit to wellbeing I received from giving back, getting out in the microbiome, working with my hands, or simply just spending less time in front of screens.
These last several qualities also apply to the aforementioned activities, and provided an additional boon to my wellbeing.
And ironically, I don’t recall feeling overly stressed, worried or depressed despite the fact I was drinking 3-5 nights a week and taking prescribed amphetamine at least every other day. The other conditions that fostered a sense of belonging and fulfillment served to counteract the detrimental effects to mental health from habitual consumption of these substances.
So, what do you need to do to restore that balance? What is it that makes you frantically cavort?
Improvements Only Result Through Action
It’s up to you to take initiative when having recognized something is creating ‘friction’ in your life. You must enact the measures needed to get your life back.
While it will be very friction-inducing in itself when taking the initial steps, and may even cause you financial hardships, the payoff will be well worth it in the long run.
For me, I needed to mediate my infatuations with:
- Stimulants (caffeine consumption leading to chronically-elevated cortisol; nicotine rationing causing me stress )
- Food (eating, for pleasure instead of nurturing body) and nutrition, a toxin-free diet
- Time (scheduling, productivity, especially with respect to “being on the clock”)
- Evening entertainment, especially while in bed right before sleep
- Money (investment portfolio, conservation of household items)
It’s good to reflect on the past from time to time. But when you have gathered the insights and inspiration you need, it’s time to let go and move on. Rumination can have the opposite effect of what was intended, which is rediscovery and growth.
The grass always appears greener on the other side. And once you’ve reached the other side, the distance between where you came from and where you were only makes the heart grow fonder. Please forgive the tired idioms, but they are still used for a reason.
You could leave the ‘States to dodge hyperinflation like soaring food prices, $6/gallon gasoline or to avoid government and big tech control and manipulation (taxes, other obligations like insurance or certifications, and surveillance).
But there’s always a tradeoff.
In Mexico, you’ll be at the mercy of poor IT infrastructure (including spotty wifi/cell reception and occasional power outages) and a lack of clean water for drinking and showering.
Adaptability is key. Once you recall and recognize the conditions or ‘non-negotiables’ that are sacred to you and make you feel fulfilled, as long as you can achieve them on a regular (daily) basis you should have no problem finding contentment in whatever circumstance life throws at you.
And I certainly took the long road, but I realize that now.