Habits of Tranquility

The Art of Unplugging

A guide to transforming your next vacation into a restorative retreat.

I once emailed a friend and received the following out-of-office auto-reply: “Almost anything will work again if you unplug it for a while, including me.” I loved it so much that I’ve since adopted it as my own, but am continuously humbled by how difficult it is to successfully implement.

Legitimately unplugging requires a fair amount of planning, but the return on investment is monumental and an important act of self-preservation and restoration. Besides, there’s nothing worse than needing a vacation from your vacation, or cashing in on that hard-earned paid time off only to think about work the whole time. Somewhere along the way, my ability to rest in my off hours became tethered to how productive I was in my on hours, an association I’ve recently learned is shared by many. From the vice grip that technology has on our attention spans to the increasingly blurred lines between work and life, we’ve been robbed of our innate ability to just be.

Retreats are the ultimate antidote to feeling overworked, overwhelmed, or just plain burnt out. They allow us to embody the Annie Dillard quote, “I would like to learn, or remember, how to live,” by creating a container for rehabilitation.

When we retreat, we sidestep the habitual hamster wheel of routine.

Retreats are a lot like rituals. They’re a combination of tools and techniques that help silence the external noise so that our internal landscapes can settle. A retreat is an invitation to make peace with the present. When we retreat, we sidestep the habitual hamster wheel of routine, and instead begin to uncover meaning in the otherwise mundane. After leading countless 3rd Ritual retreats around the globe, our mindful collective has identified the following as necessary ingredients for curating the ultimate reset:

When in doubt, find nature. Our devices have conditioned us to be reactive, whereas nature, when entered with reverence, can reprogram us to be receptive. When selecting a location for your retreat, prioritize wilderness or seascapes, whichever scenery is most soothing for your soul. With mother nature as our guide, we slowly but surely begin to notice the beauty and impermanence in all things.

Curate analog activities. Netflix knows what we want to see, Spotify knows what we want to hear, even Caviar knows what we want to eat — all of which diminish our ability to connect to our inner awareness, let alone slow down. From puzzles and board games to a book you’ve been dying to read, a little curation in the packing and planning phase of your retreat goes a long way toward successfully unplugging. But it’s one thing to bring these activities with you, and it’s another to put them to good use. We’ve gone as far as creating rules such as “no phones during puzzle time” to help uphold the necessary boundaries for breaking free from the tether to technology.

Cultivate a beginner’s mindset. Leveraging the bait and switch that is tricking your mind into feeling productive so that you can, in turn, do less is a wonderful way to rehabilitate from an addiction to being busy. Incorporating a project that requires time and attention into your retreat will help anchor your focus on the task at hand, also known as the present. Suggested endeavors include cooking or baking an intricate dish, painting on a large canvas, or hiking on a new trail. Whether you’re retreating solo or with company, stepping outside of your comfort zone will undoubtedly make for a more memorable experience that is decidedly different from your regular routine. Remember: this is about practice, not perfection.

Sit still. Whether you’re an avid meditator or a total novice, the power of observation — from our breath to our surroundings — is a powerful tool for calming the sympathetic nervous system and dissolving accumulated stress. Experiment with scheduled blocks of time (yes, we’re encouraging you to schedule time to sit and do nothing!) where you scan your body, count your breath, or simply remain still as you observe the sounds and smells around you. Like all habits, the more you practice, the easier sitting without disturbance or distraction will become.

Move mindfully. From taking long walks outside without your phone to practicing yoga as part of your morning routine, moving the body mindfully each day will help set the stage for more restful nights. Do your best to take note, without judgement, of the areas that feel more constricted or dense, and allow yourself to linger there, perhaps even engaging in gentle self-massage. When we create space in our bodies, and move with compassion and grace, we create space in our minds to replicate the same.

Write and reflect. In the words of Julia Cameron, “We should write because writing brings clarity and passion to the act of living.” Writing is a tool for connection, bridging the lessons of our past with the goals of our future. In our books, writing is an essential element of retreat, as it calls forth the deepest level of inner guidance that is always present, yet rarely heard. If you’re unsure where to begin, try answering the following prompts: What lessons have I learned in the last 6 months? How do I want to show up for my friends and family? What do I value most in this one wild and precious life?

The ultimate reason to retreat is to renew our bodies, minds, and spirits, but it is only when we consciously pause the autopilot of daily life that we get to bask in the stillness and sacredness that’s always ready and waiting to help us heal. As Albert Camus said, “to understand the world, one must turn away from it on occasion.” May your next vacation be restful and restorative, for it is when we move half as fast that we notice twice as much.

Our Contributors

Jenn Tardif Writer

Jenn Tardif is the founder of the mindful collective 3rd Ritual, a certified aromatherapist, and a writer. A devout student of Taoism, yoga, and mindfulness, Tardif is a firm believer that wisdom lights the path to well-being, and has made a lifelong commitment to share the teachings with anyone curious enough to learn more.

Jessa Carter Photographer

Jessa Carter (she/her) is a multimodal omnidisciplinary artist compelled toward the collapsing of categories, systems thinking, and collective healing. Carter’s work/play traverses ecosystem and egosystem to trace the leading lines of value, ownership, authorship, identity, time, performativity, language, and labor.

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