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What I learned spending 3 days in the woods, alone.

So here I am, in the woods, by myself. I’ve not seen another human since I arrived.

I have one week off before I start my new job, and to celebrate the fun-employment I’ve rented a place in the country for a couple of days. No internet. No TV. No email. No wife and kid.

“By yourself? No internet? What the hell will you do out there?” a friend asked.

“I’m going to do nothing. And it will be glorious… I think.”

I’ve been referring to this as my upcoming “silent retreat”. A man weekend. A writer’s get-away. Whiskey and coffee and quietness. Perhaps I’ll find peace. Maybe I’ll find myself? Surely with no distractions I’ll do some brilliant writing.

…Until I almost don’t.

At the last-minute, faced with the thought of spending three days with myself as my only company, I panicked and invited my mate Jeff. He couldn’t go, some excuse about it being his 5th Wedding Anniversary. Whatever Jeff. So here I am, stuck with myself, two steaks, a dozen eggs, a block of cheese, and a bottle of whiskey.

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Camp Kulning is just outside the country Victoria town Kyneton. It’s like stepping back in time. The property looks like a music-festival from the 1970s. There’s an old Melbourne Tramcar with two bedrooms and a wood burning stove. A backyard tiki-bar. A 1950’s caravan trailer with front porch and twinkle lights. A  two-room shack complete with Grandma’s kitch-y kitchen. There’s four places for me to sleep; I am king. (As a king that likes comfort and running water, I choose the shack with the heater.)

My hope was to spend a few days away without cheap distractions. To hear life, nature, and God, whisper. To get rid of the twitch.

In “Everything That Remains” Ryan Nicodemus, co-author of theminimalists.com writes:

“Without knowing it, out daily activities have a profound impact on our future selves. I used to reach for my phone every few minutes no matter where I was—even if i was at the urinal. Even when my phone wasn’t with me I’d reach for it. I call this the twitch

I definitely have the twitch. When I’m in the elevator, or waiting, or bored. Or stressed. The little dopamine hits from notifications and likes and messages keep me addicted. It’s not that phones are a bad thing—when used properly my phone keeps me connected to my family and friends abroad. But 95% of the time I use my phone for distraction, not connection. The twitch.

This week, I’ll confront it. No distractions. Intentional living. Quiet contentment.

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Turns out, sitting in a shack alone is slightly boring. On the first day I’ve already cracked into the record collection, putting some music on for company. In the evening I spent a few hours reading on my kindle. By the second day, I’ve downloaded four podcasts, and have the radio going most of the day. On the third, I fully cave in and catch up on emails and social media.

“I must become better at doing nothing” I tell myself, noting the irony.

I move the firewood out of the rain, make a pot of coffee, and struggle to do nothing again. 

My last day at the shack, Angela, the kind-hearted owner, returns to give me a lift to the train station. We talk a bit about the place, and our lives. I’m eager for the conversation. Am I a better listener than before? More present? Maybe, just a bit. Yes, I think so.

On the train I start writing. I’m quickly distracted by my phone. The twitch remains, but I notice it more now.

‘The first step in solving a problem is recognising there is one”

It’s a step forward, right?

Kyle Vermeulen

I love good stories and hot sauce. I'm a Product Manager at SitePoint, and spend my days trying to help people learn tech skills online. Right now, I'm probably looking for my keys, phone and/or wallet.

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