What comes from a month off the grid?


We all talk about stepping back from the fire hose of modern life and breathing — perhaps even more urgently (ironically) in the high-intensity compression of pandemic life. For most of us, it is something we do only in moments if at all. We tend to live in some state of partial overload and burnout as our base state of being driven by expectations about work, purpose, achievement, and habit.

Every summer for part of July and August I disconnect from all the systems of information overload we all rely on for communication, information, entertainment, and our public sphere. I sleep on the ground, work on the land, and reconnect with family and community. I’ve been lucky to spend more than a month of time on the road with various levels and stages of off-gridness (and I’m grateful to my three jobs for making it possible). This summer more than any in recent memory I was craving the longer horizon that comes from fewer short-term demands on time and attention and the creativity that only visits when you’re free of that overload for sustained period of time, not just a walk in the woods or a daily meditation. Something different is accessible in that freedom.

I work on and therefore write about a lot of different topics. And I know from my conversations with colleagues and friends (including many of you) that it is often hard to see what connects all the pieces. The tie that binds might be best summed up by this comment from the intro to Azadi by Arundhati Roy:

We live in a world driven by systems and cultures that do not work well for humanity and even less well for the rest of the world. The work is letting go of the things we think are givens that have set us on unsustainable paths (some very long-held ones) and imagining or reclaiming ways that genuinely serve us. Media and technology systems drive how we engage with each other, how we share and consume the myths and cultures that drive us, and lay the foundation for how we articulate new ones through discourse and discovery. Our civic life and political economy fixes these myths and cultural assumptions into markets and public systems. Our social contract defines the boundaries of what we expect from each other and how we relate to one another. Discourse. Culture. Governance. All need reimagining. Only that.

This reimagining is the focus. These are the threads that tie this conversation together. All these systems. How and why they are dysfunctional. How they can be different. How we transform them. What our world and our lives can be like with them transformed.

What is required is a relentless kindness in how we confront the dysfunction that surrounds us and an unwavering focus on what’s possible — both challenging in their own ways.

The clarity: more kindness, more focus. Only that.