A Moment of Unplugged Zen Poolside

    by Mark Glaser
    July 7, 2008

    i-cebd9b6bb574895cd9c9b2964ec77fbf-relaxing poolside.jpg
    Each summer, I try to make a concerted effort to get away from the always-on barrage of media and technology. This past week, I visited my family in St. Louis, where I grew up. While I did have to do work for some of that trip, I also tried to unplug and distance myself from work and media for part of the vacation. My past efforts at unplugging have had mixed results, with my dad even calling me out in the comments section of the blog.

    The sun is beating down on me through hazy clouds and cool breeze. I’m sitting in a metal pool chair, perched at the edge of the water, with my feet dangling in. There’s a fake palm tree nearby, giving me some shade and a spray of water to cool me.

    The scene is far from quiet, as this is a sprawling kids swim park, with children of all ages swarming about, climbing stairs and coming down slides. Water is spurting all around, from water guns attached to turrets, from PVC pipes that open with the tug of ropes, from a very large bucket that sits atop the slide and pours out over everyone from time to time. As I watch my son and his cousins go up the stairs and down the slide, up the stairs and down the slide, up the stairs and down the slide, I slowly reach a state of quiet solitude.


    How can such a scene of chaos bring quiet and zen? Sitting there, half in the pool, half out, one eye open for kids, one eye shut to the sun, I am far away from the rest of the world. I am in a bubble cut off from the workday world, and that rejuvenates me.

    Things That I Experience

    > Kids running around and swimming, enjoying the sun.


    > Parents who look kind of familiar to me. Did we go to school together? Play on a Little League team 30 years back?

    > Lifeguards trying with a degree of futility to stop the kids from running.

    > The sun beating down inside my eyelids.

    > The taste of hot dogs and fries and toasted ravioli (this is St. Louis, of course).

    > My skin becoming sunburnt in all the spots I missed.

    > The smell of chlorine, the cries of stubbed toes, the gossip of parents.

    > Inner peace.

    Things That I Do Not Experience

    > Text messages on my smart phone. I barely know where my phone is.

    > The latest comments posted to my blogs.

    > My FriendFeed telling me what every wired person around recently did online.

    > My Yahoo personalized start page updating me on my favorite blogs and news sites.

    > The latest political news on Obama’s patriotism/religion tour.

    > CNN. Fox News Channel. MSNBC. News of any kind. (I limit my TV watching to Cardinals/Cubs baseball games.)

    > NPR. Newspapers. Disaster coverage. Local political dust-ups.

    > Emails with press releases.

    > Fear and dread.

    > Deadlines.

    Twitter famously asks, “What Are You Doing?” My answer: Absolutely nothing. Better yet: I don’t have to tell anyone about it.

    Photo of person relaxing poolside by Rob Main via Flickr.

    Tagged: modern life relaxation technology
    • I know just what you mean. Sitting poolside at a community pool is probably the most relaxing thing I can think of, particularly since I don’t have kiddies to watch out for. As noisy as the little ones can get, they are never so loud as to drown out the sound of the water lapping against the rim of the pool – and the sound of my heartbeat slowing down to the same rhythm.

      The smells are delicious too – though no toasted ravioli here – just chlorine, ripe plums and iced tea.

      It’s 92 degrees here, overcast with nearly 100% humidity. I’m stuck in an office, which is unusually quiet for a post-holiday Monday, but one look at the picture on your blog, and I can close my eyes and have that perfect moment of Zen.

    • Its been 6 long years since I experienced such a wonderful zen moment poolside…it’s time for a vacation.

    • Mark, this is one of my favorite posts you’ve ever written! I had a similar experience on my recent vacation – the absolute ecstasy of rooting yourself completely in the world around you, and being open to every sensory input.

      I just read an article on creativity in Utne and it talks about how your brain reacts differently to, for example, a virtual image of a ball, and an actual ball (the author was talking about how electronic consumption replacing unstructured play is hampering kids’ creativity – a provocative argument, I know). With an actual ball, different areas of the brain are activated in an integrated way; with a virtual image, it’s probably just arousal, without much integration with other parts of the brain.

      That resonated for me – the idea of being mentally stimulated/aroused versus fully experiencing something. When you encounter the latter, you can suddenly feel like you’ve just been running on fumes.

    • A. Boyer

      I love my job as grantwriter for a non-profit Shakespeare theatre. However, when I go on vacation, I want to come back thinking, “William WHO?” and I usually succeed (even though one of my hobbies is reading Shakespeare scholarship — I just want to forget about grant writing and deadlines and the desire to bring in more money for the theatre). I try to completely forget the office even exists, and I come back loving it anew.

      My husband, on the other hand, likes to periodically check his watch and say, “If I were at work right now, I’d be doing X. And I’m not — bwahahaha!” That’s his way of unwinding.

      Either way, the job goes on without you. It was there before you worked for them and it will be there after you retire. Your life, however, isn’t like that.

    • A. Boyer

      I forgot another thing I wanted to comment on, sparked by Amanda’s post above. Maybe you can’t do it because of your job, but I’ve very nearly cut out television viewing entirely (down to three once-a-week shows, one of them a short-run series). Having no kids, and spending a good deal of time in theatre shows, my cell phone is almost always turned off (some people don’t seem to realize the infernal things HAVE off buttons). But during the past year, I’ve written a book, most of a play, and I’m preparing to start researching a new book. Consuming media smothers your own creativity. We veg out in front of it and our brains go into a coma-like stupor. I have a page-long list in my computer called “Books I Want to Write.” For years, it sat unchanged. Since giving up most media, I’ve checked off two of them as done and a third as in process. Everyone who does this no-media thing sounds like a kook and a zealot, I know, but that’s because the change is so electrifying. Stop watching, start creating!

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