Now that I’m home after four months of travel, you’d think I’d be happy to stay put for a while. But no! I’m itching to continue my gypsy life. I keep studying the maps, trying to figure out what part of the country might be warm enough for camping at this time of year. I think my friends are a little miffed: we’re having a good time reconnecting, lots of fun dinners and hikes and afternoon teas, and I’ve been reminded – as though I need such a reminder – what excellent friends I have here. But I can’t help it, I’m vocal with them about wishing I were still traveling. They keep asking me why? why do I want to be far away from them as well as from my comfortable house and interesting little town? They’ve asked it so much that I’ve begun to wonder myself: why?
I started my search for the answer to this by looking at the past – I am a psychologist after all – to see whether there is something in my early years predisposing me to want to live alone out in nature in a tent. And sure enough, I think I found it. Some of my happiest moments throughout my entire childhood were spent squeezed into some little house I had built for myself, either out of branches and leaves in warm weather, or out of snow “bricks” during winters. The houses were always off in the woods, far away from the tiny boarding school I went to from kindergarten on up, or off in the hills far from the farmhouse I had to live in when school wasn’t in session. Inside the farmhouse lived my horrible Aunt Gladys and the eight severely retarded children she took care of. (Back then the term “retarded” hadn’t yet become politically incorrect). My houses were always just big enough for me to sit in, all folded up with my chin resting on my knees. I would imagine that I was in a real home with loving parents nearby, and a brother and a sister outside playing. I would imagine friends visiting, birthday parties, parents tucking me in at night, family dinners, all the details I knew about family life from the books I read. Scrunched up for hours in one of my little houses I wasn’t lonely, my life seemed full, and I felt loved. I was providing for myself all that I lacked in my real life. Those imaginary times might be why I was able to grow up to be a fairly normal person. Are they also one of the reasons I now love to live in my tent out in the woods?
Maybe. But it’s something else going on right now, because what I’m wanting is to run away as fast as possible from my house, it’s not so much a desire to go toward a wonderful camping experience. Since I got back I’ve been restless, unfocussed, unable to concentrate for any length of time on anything. My brain feels as though it has splintered into a thousand shards. A lot of the time I feel vaguely bored and slightly anxious. At first I thought it was because I was faced with so many details-of-life to take care of as soon as I got back – phone calls, bills to pay, house chores, appointments. But once they were all taken care of I didn’t feel any better.
I’m a different person on the road – relaxed, aware, able to concentrate for hours on a book or simply on the beauty around me. I move and talk and breathe more slowly. My memory works well. I have interesting thoughts. That way of being is what I’m longing for, and I achieve it most fully when I’m living in nature in my tent. The contrast between how I feel when camping and how I feel now at home is extreme, and it’s never been so noticeable before. But why is it happening? Why does being at home make me feel like this?
I may have an answer. I think there is a noxious element here in my house that is never present in campgrounds, and it is…..drum roll…..wait for it……The Internet. I’ve been checking out some of the research looking at the effects on us humans of extended time spent at our computers. Nothing’s definitive, there’s plenty of controversy about the findings. But what strikes me is that the symptoms I’m complaining about are exactly the ones that the scientists are finding in people who spend many too many hours every day in front of their devices.
There’s no question that I spend way too much time like that at home. Hours can disappear while I play mindless games of solitaire. Listening to NPR while I play gives me the illusion of doing something constructive but afterwards I often can’t remember a single thing that I heard. I check my emails way too often, sometimes forgetting I checked just minutes before. I google every question the minute it pops into my mind, often leaping up from a deeply comfortable position in my favorite chair where I’ve been engrossed in a fascinating book. My tiny laptop sitting so innocently on the table exerts a powerful magnetic force over me all day long, continually pulling me to it. I am in thrall to its constant demand for attention. I want to change this state of affairs.
Because, bottom line, what I want is to feel the way I feel when I’m camping. That feels like my true self. I want to feel it all the time, wherever I am and whatever I’m doing. If that means breaking my computer habit then so be it. It won’t be easy, but I did finally manage to quit smoking 32 years ago so maybe I can do it. The stakes are high – I stand a chance to be calm and focussed and capable of deep concentration even when I’m at home. If it turns out I’m wrong and it’s not The Internet at fault here, that’s ok too. I’ll keep looking for the dragon here in my house. And by golly I’ll slay it.
Would I have known about this true self of mine if I’d never gone camping?