It’s already been about a month since I returned to the Center from winter break. Time flies.
Each time I return home, I’m reminded that my daily lifestyle at the Retreat Center is quite unusual. I live with around 15 people aged 18-70 from different backgrounds. My teacher is a world renown martial arts and Qigong author and instructor. Our schedules are packed with training, studying, chores, and other work. My free time is almost non-existent. We rarely leave the Center unless we’re teaching, grocery shopping, or running errands. We spend half the day outside surrounded by trees and with a spectacular view of the mountains. It’s a strange mixture of grueling challenges, personal development, lack of free time and independence, highly productive days, lack of personal space, community support, humble living, facing personal demons, spiritual awakening, and simultaneously being disconnected and connected to the rest of the world.
Throughout the years, many people have discovered the training program and expressed interest in being a full time student. Life is far from the romanticized version of training with the kung fu master and meditating under waterfalls. It’s extremely different from my original expectations, but it’s still the path I desire. Things change, but I’m making it what I want it to be.
When I re-entered the “matrix” this time, the disconnect was more apparent. (We jokingly refer to life off the mountain as being “in the matrix,” but we’re also in a matrix of our own.) As an introvert, it’s not easy to have small talk with most people. If they happen to be interested in hearing about my unconventional lifestyle, the novelty eventually fades. It’s difficult to relate to their daily lives as well. I’ve also become less patient with people who interrupt each other, don’t listen, talk to fill the silence, and speculate and judge other people. Maybe it’s a sign of age, but time has become extremely precious to me and I want to fill it with positivity and/or productivity. Aside from spending time with friends and family, I’m quite happy to be alone training, reading, cooking, or walking/running outside.
I spent the first few days of my break in New York City for the premiere and to visit family. It was an 180 degree turn from life on the mountain. There was so much noise, not just in the form of sounds but also in visuals and energy. There were people everywhere, but most of them were on their smartphones or going about their business. We were physically connected by sharing the same space, yet mentally separated. Advertisements filled up most of my peripheral vision telling me to buy, watch, or eat something. The sounds I heard were either unwanted or unintended. I’m not against the city lifestyle; it’s just not for me and the mountain life isn’t for most people. On top of that, I attended a premiere for a movie I worked on, which is not what most people do, even in the matrix. My life has been full of ups and I have a lot to be grateful for, it’s just also been a bit odd.
Home is still different from the mountain life but it’s not as drastic as NYC is. It was good to have my own space and time and see friends and family. I needed the break from the schedule and work but I also felt guilty for not doing more. I didn’t even take a complete break since there were media projects and work to do at the office. I can’t not work for too long or I get antsy.
A conversation with friends enlightened me to the changing landscape of communication. I use email and am a proud owner of a flip phone. I didn’t have text messaging until last year and kept it secret for a while. I have to press many buttons to spell out words so my messages are often abrupt and nonsensical. I see squares instead of emojis. I can’t partake in group text chats, not that I want to. I believe I’m one of the few people who still leave voicemails. Smartphones have their conveniences but I have no desire (or need, in my current situation) to own one. I had a work smartphone for some time and felt paranoid. On the streets, I would made sure my back was to a wall before I looked at it, just in case someone wanted to sneak up behind me. The only app I wish I could have is maps.
Apparently, a lot of people don’t use email so much and prefer to use text messaging. One person said she would sometimes be inadvertently left out of social invitations before she got text messaging. One friend confessed to feeling stressed every time he hears his work phone’s text alerts. There’s apparently a range of time you’re supposed to return a text so you don’t appear too desperate or neglectful. For some people, calling a person is considered bothersome when the message could have been transmitted via text.
All of this was part of a greater conversation about how many people prefer to avoid face to face contact and do things over the internet. It’s a generalization of some demographics, but it left me fascinated and a little disturbed.
When I finish my program at Center, what will I be returning to? Will there be people interested in learning what I want to teach? I’m grateful for online learning opportunities for long distance students, but I enjoy in-person exchanges infinitely more. Exchanging martial arts and Qigong experiences is one of the few times when I’m comfortable and enjoy human interaction.