“The screen is the empty mirror where the simulated shadows of things relentlessly replace each other. In our craven fear of being forgotten, we remain glued to the empty window”
- John O'Donohue
A year ago I decided to quit instagram and facebook. To delete my six year history of posts and catalogue of carefully curated squares of lovely and hard life: things baked, clothes made, babies birthed, eggs cleaned, poems penned, plants tended to. I wrote a blog about the decision to quit here.
Thirteen months has given me room to ponder what it was I needed in that decision.
First and foremost it gave me a sense of agency to let go, and in actually letting go, I noticed how good it felt to make a decision for myself that other people wouldn't necessarily want or accept or even need for themselves. A friend said leaving instagram was like "coming home to herself" and I couldn't agree more.
I also needed the gift of space it afforded me. What happened in the space freed from spending hours every day on instagram and facebook? It was simply absorbed in the day (and night) as little pockets of moments between the chores and doing and going - to simply be: to pause, to take more care or a deeper breath. These pockets, like the best placed, generous pockets of a beloved dress or coat, are warm and homely. They are essential to being comfortable, safe even, in the middle of the mess and clamour and unpredictability of life. I am sure there are ways to carve out digital pockets that are relaxing and constructive, and perhaps writing and reading blog posts and long-format news pieces is mine, but it still pales in comparisons to the real life sun-on-your-face pockets of pause and breath. I wouldn't cut them out now for anything.
It has also given me a renewed appreciation for waiting, that easily neglected, yet necessary part of being human. I love Marnie Kennedy's reflections on waiting as a kind of prayerfulness:
"Instant knowledge, instant gratification, instant success are the messages of the media. However, waiting is of the essence of creatureliness and is the characteristic of genuine prayer, for it helps to purify the heart of impatience and consumer addiction. Waiting is in itself a deep place of revelation and leads to the unmasking of illusion, prejudice and fear"
I realised I could wait before taking a photograph of something beautiful or sharing something with friends or family. I could also wait before purchasing a new knitting pattern or ordering beautiful fabric to recreate something I'd see someone else make. I could wait before writing something that others would read in my newsletter, for ideas to come and go more gradually. I could also wait for feedback which didn't come very often and was perfectly alright to keep creating and contemplating without instantaneous feedback and encouragement. I can wait for relationships to simmer and grow in real time. I can wait - and am still waiting - for my body to heal from illness without any guarantee or when or how. I can wait with less instead of impatiently craving and cramming in more.
I'm sure you've come across these famous lines by Mary Oliver from her poem "Sometimes":
Instructions for living a life:
Tell about it."
But what is she saying here? What does the whole poem speak of? Is it a glittery prompt to document our lived experiences for all to see? To labour over photographs and catchy descriptions on our digital devices? Or is it simply to remind herself - and us the readers - to sit with the present moment, however mundane or extraordinary, and drink it in. To savour the sublime ordinariness of grasshoppers and afternoon light, and the gifts of idleness and solitude, the messiness of faith and relationships. What if telling about it was just bearing witness to our own senses? To the stories and feelings of others in real time?
I used to live a life of squares
beautiful confines to capture
bread still steaming
children in play
kind of thing.
You saw what I saw
but you didn't see me
with my phone
body rigid and fingers
tapping the scene
What if paying attention
to my own body is the gift?
That it's enough to feel my senses
hold the present:
I live a life off-grid now
a beautiful freedom to
savour the seasons.
ABOUT the author
Emily Clare Sims is a farmer and mama to three young boys. Each day she looks for ways to notice beauty, contemplate her faith and savour the seasons...