I have a confession to make. I disappeared for four days last month. I’d wanted to do that for a while, and so, I did it. I finally up and left, turned all internet access off, made myself unreachable, and escaped into the hills.
I don’t know what to make of the experience, to be honest. There were the good parts. I mean, who wouldn’t want to live by themselves in a cottage, reading books, and devouring cups of coffee?
Then, why was it that I felt this insane urge to come back on the fourth day?
I watched a movie the other day. It’s called The Land of Steady Habits. There’s this particular scene where Anders, the main character, tells his friend about how he had this vision of his life.
He says that he envisioned his life to be a web of threads. The more threads, he said, coming out of you and connected to other people, the more important you were. So, if you were a teacher, you had all these threads coming out of you because people relied on you.
He ends this monologue with the conclusion that if you remove yourself from the web, it makes itself back again, and the people who relied on you learn to rely on someone else.
It’s straightforward logic, but that’s how everything works. If you fail to help someone, they will find help elsewhere. It is hugely self-centred then to assume that you are significant enough for you to take yourself out of the web.
You’d think at first that it makes a difference. Maybe it shakes things off for a while, but nothing changes.
The movie also goes on to show that Anders wasn’t as happy as he had thought he’d be once he ups and leaves his position on the web. He was miserable for most of the story.
Why is that? I think the answer probably lies in what the author Neil Gaiman once wrote.
“It’s like the people who believe they’ll be happy if they go and live somewhere else, but who learn it doesn’t work that way. Wherever you go, you take yourself with you.”
My motivation to escape was two-part.
The first was simple. I never had, willingly, turned my internet connection off since my first smartphone. Yes, I lost reception or had to put my phone on airplane mode when travelling. However, I never turned my connection off voluntarily.
I believed that the inability to do so gave rise to a myriad of smaller problems in my life and health.
The second was slightly convoluted. It is very narcissistic to believe that you are the person people reach out to when they need help. In some sense, it is even megalomaniacal. There was a part of me that believed that most people in my web would immediately drop a message when they needed something.
The problem, I learned later, wasn’t in the requests. Instead, it was in my inability to say no which has been a consistent flaw over the years.
I spent about four days reading four books, and another one halfway. I took walks along the misty, cemented walkways of Landour, Mussoorie. I hiked around the town, stopping for meals and coffee whenever I could. I listened to a lot of music, albeit, the limited set I had on my phone.
It wasn’t a bad experience. In fact, this little spree revived my reading habit. I have read over ten books since then. I had fun, actually but still I didn’t feel like I belonged there. Not as of now, at least.
I think, I’ve come to realise that looking outward, to a place where no one knows you, where no one can reach you, might bring a sense of calm in your life at first. Then, it starts to fade away, and the relaxation begins to feel like work.
It’s a convenient solution, but not the right one.
I think it’s far more challenging to look inwards, and fix what’s wrong with yourself which in my case, was as simple as the learning the practice of saying No as well as to leave my phone on the desk, voluntarily.
Again, had I not escaped to the hills, I wouldn’t have realised where the issues lied. However, I want to be the person who won’t need a four-day-getaway to see that four-day-getaways don’t fix anything.
The best part about this whole episode was pressing play on my life.
It’s a rather good one, and I am grateful that there are people who think they can rely on me for a whole lot of things. If anything, I rely on them more than they do on me.
I’ll try to keep that in mind before I pack my bags next time.