Recently, I went camping in Canada with a few friends. 10 days is the longest I’ve ever camped and, let me tell you, camping for more than 5 days is completely different from the usual 3-day weekend, camping trips people usually take. We were in a small, tourist, fishing town about 2 hours from Toronto, and all the time spent there provided the perfect storm for reflection, meditation, solitude, and ample time for introspection. My accounting of the trip was meant to only be one post; but after writing down my first stream of thoughts, it seems it may carry on to a few.
There’s nothing quite like an extended time away from the technological grid to expose the unnecessary affections and attachments our hearts have for things that no previous generation had or experienced. What we discover about ourselves when we’ve had uninterrupted time to think and reflect, either ought to be reckoned and dealt with or simply cast aside as “something everyone else is guilty of as well.” The former is helpful, the latter is one reason why we have this problem in the first place.
John Calvin made a point that man’s nature is akin to an idol factory. Constantly churning out more and more objects that vie for our affections, and often, finding ample use for them in our distracted, discontented, restless, and attached state. Remove 4G LTE from our current generation and what do we have? Think about what would happen to you if you had no signal or WiFi for a day. In my case, you had a spoiled brat desperately dependent on a service signal to keep in touch with a reality that camping was to clear his head from. How backwards is that? It’s as if I was afraid that life would pass me by while I was camping; that real life was happening on the social media sphere, while my friends and I were wasting time fishing, camping, playing cards, and shooting the raccoons that were trying to get into our food.
There’s something about being away from the grid that exposes those idols. It did for me. Extended getaways that require us to live simply provide the necessary conditions for our introspection to be beneficial. Perhaps Thoreau was right– we need the tonic of wilderness, we can never have enough of nature. Why? Because the solitude and perspective nature provides serves as a norm and hard reset for what our affections and attention ought to align with. Though Thoreau’s overarching transcendentalism is, at times, troubling, his insights into the simplicity of life are second to none.
Nobody in history had as much access to information, news, data, and content as we do today. They did just fine. John Owen, my favorite theologian, didn’t have a phone with a signal or a tablet with access to any historical work I desire, and yet I look at his volumes sitting on my bookshelf in humility, admiration, and a dash of envy. I wonder how he could possibly have written and thought through so much. It doesn’t last long, however, and I can see that we, me first and foremost, are a distracted people. We are an attached people. We are attached to our distractions. Our ability to access whatever distraction we desire is the main culprit. Take away that ability, and our minds are left to reflect why we feel so empty when our distractions are not center stage.