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What happens when we stop everything?

A couple of hours after I got to Paradise Valley, Montana I handed my laptop and iPhone over to Stacy, the ranch guest manager. I had already snuck upstairs in the lodge to login on the ranchs improved satellite Internet to put together a blog post. I realize going to a ranch is an extravagance. I was fortunate to have such an opportunity. So in one snap instant I decided that I couldnt trust myself to unplug. I needed to take action. When traveling I have a hard time really seeing what I am looking at right away. On this trip we went to Yellowstone the first day in Montana. We saw brown bears, coyotes, bison with their young, elk, and antelope. But it wasnt until the drive from Bozeman to Paradise Valley on Fathers Day that I saw the vastness of the Montana countryside and the snow-capped mountains, too beautiful to be real. The first night after turning in my electronic contraband I still felt jumpy. I had trouble getting to sleep and when I got up in the middle of the night to take a leak I was disturbed not to be able to check my twitter feed. Monday I met up with my old friend Mags, a painted mare with whom I have bonded in prior years. She guided me through rushing streams and up wildflower-filled fields to commanding views of the Yellowstone River and Mount Emigrant. I laughed with friends along the trail and secretly wondered what might be happening in the blogospherea story about an original Playboy bunny and the controversy over women looking for ugly husbands. But by the time I got back to my cabin and made a fire for my wife and kids a strange thing had begun to take root in me.

Stillness is a foreign concept in the modern world, and particularly for a stimuli addict like me. Yet I know from a fair bit of meditation in years past that silence, and not moving, can lead not only to a sense of well-being but also to a deeper connection to the world. In my everyday life the closest thing I get to stillness is an odd craving for sleep. I can nap just about anywhere. But when I do, I generally wake up disoriented and on edge. Its as if the assault of the modern world grinds me down to a point of exhaustion but even my short breaks dont get to the underlying issue. I wake up startled, with my defenses up. Stillness is something completely different from sleep. Its not a drug or an antidote to hyper-activity. For me, its the not-doing while fully awake that leads to relaxation and a different level of awareness of my environment. When I move quickly Im constantly reacting to the world on a superficial level, bouncing around like pinball. The thing about

stillness is that I finally have the time to breathe deeply, look fully, and see below the surface of things. The transition from movement to stillness is not without discomfort, at least for me. My body and mind keep looking for an easy out, imagining important emails I must be missing or things I forgot to do. Or thats just my brain playing tricks on me. Theres nothing I have to do. Except be still.

My computer and iPhone were waiting for me. I made it from Sunday to Thursday in the electronic dark side of the moon. Then a modest emergency at home required me to send out an email. It was a downhill slide from there. But I had those five full days of stillness, and even more long rides without interruption before leaving on Sunday. Mags would lope along, my body moving in rhythm to hers, giving me a sense of

floating in this beautiful moment completely without a care in the world. Im on the plane now heading home to the grind of civilization, but when I get there Im going to hold onto the feeling of riding through a rushing stream, Mags warm body below me as the freezing-cold spray hits my leg and out of the corner of my eye I catch a glimpse of mountains too beautiful to be real. But I know what I saw on my trip was real, the beauty I miss by being so busy in my everyday life.

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About Tom Matlack Tom Matlack is the co-founder of The Good Men Project. He has a 17-year-old daughter and 15- and 6-year-old sons. His wife, Elena, is the love of his life. Comments


Lindsey says:

June 29, 2011 at 3:46 pm Edit 0 0

Gorgeous. I know I need this too. And for sure, yes, what we see in those rare moments is real. The realest thing of all, I suspect. Reply


David Wise says:

June 29, 2011 at 4:09 pm Edit 0 0

I love Montana and Wyoming. In fact, I love out West in general. Great photos. Reply


Clark Kent's Lunchbox says:

June 29, 2011 at 6:23 pm Edit 0 0

My problem: I dont know how to relax. To me its always just answer that last email, or return that last call. I have to force myself to be still. I have to physically cut myself off from everything. My dads the same way I learned from him. Reply


Tom Matlack says:

June 29, 2011 at 6:34 pm Edit Ron I am right there with you. Its like pulling teeth with me. But I have done just enough to know that it is really, really important. Still, it is very hard to actually do.



Eric says:

June 29, 2011 at 6:44 pm Edit 0 0

Well done. Good point. Reply


Henry Vandenburgh says:

June 29, 2011 at 10:34 pm Edit 0 0

Fantastic, Tom. Thanks for a great article! Reply


Roger says:

June 29, 2011 at 11:20 pm Edit 0 0

Tom, Thanks for another great post. It reminded me of my trip to the Tetons several years ago. I was separated from my wife, quitting my job as a minister and going into our family business with my brother. But between being a minister and a business owner, I took two weeks, got in my pick-up truck, and road by myself from Louisville, through the Badlands and the Black Hills, through Yellowstone and pitched a tent at the base of the Tetons. And sat for a few days. And did nothing. Well, cried some. Hiked a lot. And thought about my life. The stillness was profound. Something I know I need and from which I benefit everytime I find it. But its also one of those things I dont do as often as I would like. I have a hard time making myself slow down. Its crazy. Your post called me back to that quiet place. Thanks. Reply


Tom Matlack says:

June 30, 2011 at 6:53 am Edit Great stuff Roger. I had a similar experience after my divorce when I went to our family house in Maine by myself for a weekend. The first day was really hard but by the second I was very happy to be alone. And still. And yes I cried too. Reply


Andrea Doucet says:

June 30, 2011 at 8:38 am Edit

Tom, I loved this piece. I also struggle with the challenges of when and how much to unplug, how to let go of all this exciting work that keeps piling up on my desk and screen, and the constant buzz from the ever present iPhone, which you describe so well. In the past few years, I have come to rely on my husband, who is always very good with quiet and stillness, to help me with this issue. In fact, I came to a point where I knew that I was hitting a breaking point and I said to him This is your main job in our relationship right now. To take me away from this, to remind me to take breaks, and to insist that we take good holidays together. (My favourite place: a family cottage in New Brunswick, north of Maine). I also think both women and men are facing this issue in 2011. And its especially hard for people whose jobs are not jobs, but are passions. Ironically, it even gets tweeted and talked about on twitter, as people plot their social media cleanses and mini retreats. In fact, I noticed that many people were tweeting out Arianna Huffingtons recommendations for wellness and balance from a recent conference. She reconfirmed that sleep is very high on her list! So thanks for using your voice to remind others. Heres to more stillness this summer. Reply


Tom Matlack says:

June 30, 2011 at 8:52 am Edit Thanks Andrea for the thoughtful comment. My wife plays something of the role your husband does in our family, not because she is necessarily silent but because she isnt a techno-addict like me and

loves me enough to want me around. So when I disappear into the abyss she brings me back and demands that I remember how much I would actually prefer to be still and with her and the kids. As you might have seen in other of my writings, Maine is also a touchstone for me. Camden in particular. That is Gods country. Reply


Stacy Townsend says:

June 30, 2011 at 2:32 pm Edit 0 0

Thank you for sharing Tom, and beautifully written. We find an immeasurable value in providing an offline experience, and this is such a wonderful illustration of what can happen when you choose to unplug and reconnect as a family. We cant wait to have you guys back in 2012! Reply