This time last year, I was sitting at my desk in the snazzy offices of an LA based tech start up, messaging my colleague who was sitting directly opposite me over Slack, eyes locked on our screens instead of each other, emojis for reactions in the place of a raised eyebrow or a wry smile. 'Shannon is typing...' Man, the thrill of it. With 87,000 tabs open on the screen in front of me and a couple of half written emails hanging like unfinished thoughts, the chat window had the highest percentage of my attention because it kept beeping and dotdotdotting and giving me kicks.
Digital kicks are great for a while: bouncing icons, blue dotted emails, buzzing phones, likes on likes on likes. Turn all notifications ON. But then comes the constant need for more: a hunger that can never be sated, the bottomless, meaningless pit of the digital rush.
I had become, somewhere along the line, this never-quite-satisfied half-person, motionless in front of a screen, completely ignoring the two facets we are all born with, the only two things we have to work with and work on: our minds, and our bodies.
None of it felt right. It seemed like maybe there was more, if I could figure out where to look. And so I quit. I upped and left. The snazzy office, the city, the country. I moved home, back to my mum's house in the English countryside where I thought: fuck, what now?
All I knew was that I wanted to shake off the digital world, disentangle myself and crawl tentatively out into a world I'd forgotten. The physical one. The one with minds and bodies and places and senses. From the little blue dots on my phone to the big blue dot in the universe, I wanted to shrug off my digital shell and throw myself headlong into the real thing.
To put it more succinctly and less poetically: I quit my desk job and retrained as a personal trainer. I took this lingering notion that I wasn't working on my mind or my body enough and brought it to its most literal and logical conclusion.
At the beginning, I spent six weeks in a classroom, learning, concentrating, feeding my mind with real stuff, stuff that sated the hunger. Stuff that filled my head to the brim and then some. Being an adult who has become gradually unaccustomed to the classroom, you realise just how far our minds have been digitally tampered with over the last decade or so. It occurred to me how much shorter my attention span had become, and just how frequently I wanted to check my 'gram. Homework took longer than it used to because distractions were countless and ceaseless. I found myself putting my phone in other rooms, in drawers, in some cases having to leave the house without it so I could just finish my work without contributing emojis on the whatsapp group chat.
But still, I got through it. I reached for my wandering and agitated mind and tethered it down, forced it to stay in one place. Slowly, my empty mind that was so light it would flit and fly away at a moments notice became heavy with knowledge, grounded, sturdy, focused, tame. The hunger replaced with curiosity, and the curiosity finding satisfaction in concrete answers and solutions.
When we weren't in the classroom we were in the gym, learning how the body moved, how it developed, what it was capable of. We helped each other, taught one another, became a community of people who pulled through those six weeks with encouragement and grit and copying Ricky's homework. There were no laptops, no #Slack, just notebooks and highlighters and brains and biceps working on overtime to figure it all out.
I wasn't just being prepared for a job, I was being prepared to interact with the real actual world. The one out there where you have to talk to real people and have real conversations and stand in real rain and feel real physical exhaustion and carry very real weights on your real achy back, where your mind and body feel every single thing. There's no hiding, there's no filter. Connections are deep and trusting and genuine. I push people to their limits, they learn what their bodies are capable of and how strong their minds can be, how focused. It's a beautiful process to be a part of.
So here I am, utterly immersed in the physical. Working outside, every day of the week. Seeing the sun rise each morning and being completely aware of the changing seasons, every second of those transitions from summer to autumn to winter: I've felt the dark, tasted the cold, smelled the fallen leaves, heard the crunch of frosty grass under foot. Yesterday I nearly cried because while waiting for a client in a particular park, I noticed all the autumn leaves had finally been swept up over the weekend and I thought 'this is what standing in the beginning of winter feels like', and it had taken me thirty years to know that that was a feeling worth recognizing.
In the physical world, our minds and bodies can seek out their limits and run towards them. Real kicks replace the digital ones, if only for an hour a day. We connect, we move, we learn, we grow. All notifications OFF, we let the real world in, let it fill us up, and for a while at least the hunger is gone.