The restorative power of a break

I knew it was time for a break when I started adding ‘meditate’ to the ‘to do’ list in my notebook.

Correction, I started to add it in increasingly urgent typefaces as I counted down the days to my holiday:




– you get the picture. 
I should clarify that I have never actually ‘meditated’. I’d simply identified this practice as something from the never ending list of things that we 21c non-millennial, optimised-for-efficiency, super-humans should apparently be doing; along with Keto/Paleo diets, drinking green juice/algae, taking HIIT classes and having vitamins intravenously injected into our nether regions (my Yorkshire ancestors are turning in their graves).

Yet despite the somewhat sceptical tone (which I can assure you, exists in my head as much as it does on this page), I did start my extended holiday to New Zealand feeling rather inadequate. Inadequate because I just can’t live up to the seemingly essential practices that comprise a true commitment to the 21c.

Cabin fever

On the plane, there was one enormous clue as to why I was feeling this way. I can only describe it as ‘withdrawal’. Separated from my internet-enabled-devices for a continuous period of 10 (and then 12) hours and not enjoying a lot of sleep, I felt nervous, almost jittery. I tried to get immersed in each of the books I’d brought along for the trip (more on these later) but found myself unable to concentrate on more than a few pages at a time. Even watching movies was a struggle. And so it went on, for 26 long hours, punctuated by occasional troubled naps and the usual gut-assaulting airline victuals.

Now, I admit that I was hooked, not only to my devices but to frenetic scrolling and switching between the articles, posts and notifications. As someone with numerous complex projects on the go at once, deep and sustained focus takes a lot of work, especially when information feeds are designed to keep us scrolling endlessly. Even the interface designer behind the “infinite scroll” function has said publicly how he regrets what his invention has done to society.

I know that many people can do this without feeling any negative effects but for me, by 2nd April, 2019, it had resulted in quite a significant sensory overload. One from which I was only able to regain perspective by switching off.

Daybreak at my Parents’ smallholding in South Island, NZ

Calming down

Yet this holiday also provided an opportunity to engage with some enriching, thought-provoking content, leading to deep reflection, and a much calmer mind (although I suspect I should allow others to be the judge of that!).
So, for no other reason than that you may also find these interesting, here are some of the people and things that collectively (and in no particular order), helped me to feel more balanced and contributed to my ‘technology detox’ (note, you will need some technology to enjoy a few of them!):

  1. Ruth Bader Ginsberg (‘Notorious RBG’) – I watched both the biopic, On the Basis of Sex, and a brilliant documentary on the plane. What.a.woman!
  2. The almost primordial sound (well, what I imagine as primordial!) of the New Zealand forest. We took a day trip to Peel Forest during our vac and reader, I hugged a tree! The kids and I found that brief expedition totally restorative. For those that don’t know, the birds of New Zealand sound very different to anywhere else in the world. This isn’t my recording but it allows you to experience some of the sensory delights (I’m playing it as I write).
  3. Derren Brown’s phenomenal book, Happy. His very accessible canter through ancient and modern philosophy brings the subject to life in a style that is thoughtful and humane, totally avoiding some of the gimmicks and cliches that pepper modern ‘self help’ literature.
  4. Frances Osbourne’s The Bolter; a wonderful biography of Idina Sackville and a tragic story of love and loss. This, which I found along with ‘Happy’ amongst the shelves of Alnwick’s Barter Books, brings the inter-war years to vivid life with the backdrop of Kenya’s Happy Valley & through the people who became the inspiration for White Mischief.
  5. Carole Caddwallader’s TED Talk & subsequent Guardian article on the destablising effects of unchecked data collection, online manipulation and centralised power. And Bianca Wylie on data collection and use in Toronto’s civic life; two interesting and thought provoking reads that remind us how elites (no matter how benign they might appear) are always a bad thing. The ‘Gods’ of the fourth industrial revolution may also be the monsters!
  6. Elizabeth Day’s How to Fail podcast not only has some amazing interviews, it made me realise that I’ve been missing broadcasting for the 18 years since I last sat behind a microphone and (durr), I don’t ‘have’ to miss it because now (ta-da!) we have ‘the podcast’! I have no idea how long it will take me to turn this thought into a thing, by the way.
  7. Morning Pages – the healing, daily writing practice of ‘The Artist’s Way’ by Julia Cameron; not in its original form but in the shape of a hugely inspiring blog I read one day at the side of the pool while the kids swam. I didn’t save the blog, can’t recall the name of the young journalist who wrote it and no amount of Googling is bringing it back to me. So you’ll just have to take my word for this one (or if you also read it, please can you send me the link?).
  8. Proper, practical, advice and observations that help me in my daily work; from the wonderfully astute and easy-to-read Jim Connolly  (who’s Marketing Blog is an essential for anyone who ever wants to sell and idea or a product) and; from Steve Bartlett, who is so wise at such a young age that he makes me believe in reincarnation because otherwise – how? (just kidding, Steve, if you’re reading this!).
Emma’s pre-teen twins enjoy a tranquil moment at the Ashburton Gallery, New Zealand.

There were a couple of other highlights that I would like to recommend, should a visit to South Canterbury, New Zealand become a possibility anytime soon:

  1. The Montrose Estate on the banks of the Rakaia Gorge; the location for a wonderful two days at the end of our trip, spent amongst the most breathtaking scenery.
  2. Ashburton Museum & Gallery; an unexpected find on a rainy day, exhibiting the entries to a wonderful portrait competition and amazing old photographs, long forgotten but discovered under a shed in the town during renovations. Also providing easels, art materials and space for anyone who wants to create an artwork, and have it displayed on the walls. Please can more UK galleries do this?

Of course, it can be challenging to retain the kind of equilibrium that comes from a holiday once the everyday pressures and thrills of work resume. However, I’ve managed to incorporate a few of these holiday activities into my daily routine including: switching off notifications on my phone (to avoid ‘beeping’ and buzzing’ and the dopamine-feeding spikes that can go with constantly checking social media); keeping off all electronic devices before 8am; reading non-work-related books every day; writing Morning Pages and yes, meditating. Just for 10 minutes, every day, to the sound of the New Zealand forest. I highly recommend it.
Until next time, haere ra!

All photos by @emmathwaites

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