I recently spent two weeks at the Hambidge Center for the Creative Arts and Sciences in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains working on a project. About ten people at a time journey to Hambidge, where the staff and natural surroundings provide the peace and solitude needed to focus. Several nights a week, we all met down at the Rock House for a delicious dinner prepared by chef Lori accompanied by great conversation.
Some of my friends were shocked when I told them there was no cell reception, no TV, and no internet in my studio. In fact, for about two months leading up to my residency, I furiously gathered resources I’d need for my research, because I knew the only building with internet access was the Rock House. Each day I researched and wrote, and when I got stuck and couldn’t find the information I needed, I jotted questions in my journal and moved on. Once a day I allowed myself a trip to the Rock House to access the internet.
You may be thinking that I didn’t need to fly to Georgia to stay off the internet. There are apps and programs for that. But that wasn’t the point of this trip. From the moment I got up on the day of my trip, I silenced my devices. On the plane, in my rental car, and in my studio, I didn’t listen to music, podcasts, or audio books. (I did play my recorder every day, though!) When I let the silence stretch before me and curl around me, it gave me space to think.
Now that I’m home, where there’s fast internet, a nice TV, and way too many streaming options, I’m still giving myself space to think. And it’s freeing. Now I can see my bad habits for what they are. And I understand how I formed them in the first place.
During the school year, I’m so short on time that I can’t read as much as I want to. That’s why I started listening to audio books and podcasts. I’d listen as I got ready in the morning, on my drive to work, while cooking, etc. However, I was filling the silence by listening to other people’s voices without leaving room for my own voice.
Now that I’ve been home a few weeks and I’m immersed in summer, I don’t feel the need to fill every silence, or to stay busy every minute. It’s freeing, and hasn’t diminished my productivity. In fact, I believe it has boosted my creativity. So even if you can’t jet away to attend a retreat or residency, a self-imposed silence and device-free period could be rejuvenating and inspiring. Why not give it a try?