Recently, while in Australia on business, I took a self-retreat for a few days, and learned how to climb out of debt. Mental debt that is.
First, what is a self-retreat? For me, it means creating an environment where I can eliminate distractions to help focus my attention inwards. Disconnecting fully from my day-to-day. No work, no email, no Slack, no phone calls, no text messages, no social media (which I don’t use anyways) and no news media either. Just me and myself.
While in Australia, I rented a car (and was fearless in driving on the left side of the road in Sydney!) and ended up in Blue Mountains, a few hours west of the city. Using Google Maps (the only use of my phone), I randomly ended up at Wentworth Falls. I got out of my car, and started walking. The walk turned into a climb, with many ups and downs, following a hiking trail until I came upon a lookout point that had one of the most stunning views of a valley I’ve ever seen. The lush greenery was endless (remember, it’s summer down under right now), with hills and large rock formations adding depth to a landscape that left me inspired by nature’s beauty.
Once I finally soaked it all in, I found myself standing there, peacefully observing the physical space and then naturally began observing my own state of mind, by checking in. While in a meditate state, checking in means observing my mental or emotional state, as if I was another person, one that I can see fully inside.
Now to my surprise, the stillness and quiet of the physical space had the opposite effect on my inner space. My mind was quickly filled with thoughts. Not thoughts of where I was, not thoughts of what I was observing outside of me. But thoughts of what I felt I should have been doing. In other words, my to-do list.
As I became aware of what was going on inside of me, a strong feeling came up. I started to feel that I was in debt. Mentally. Before I could let myself be present mentally and emotionally with where I was physically, I felt I had to first pay off what was outstanding. Finish what I had previously committed I would do. A ‘once this, then that’ type of feeling.
When we think of debt as a term, we associate it immediately with a financial state, and think of a mortgage, loan, credit card or bank account. Now, how does debt translate to our mental state? Mental debt is a build up of stuff I feel I should be doing, before I can relax. This may be an obvious symptom of the culture we live in today.
I think mental debt is self-imposed. I create it. It is perhaps useful, as a source of motivation to get stuff done, but only to a certain point. Mental debt can quickly outgrow its usefulness as it can limit my ability to experience the present moment.
Back to my retreat, that feeling of being in debt mentally is what I observed near the start of the trip. At the end of the retreat in Australia, only a few days later, I reflected again on my mental and emotional state, and am glad to report that I was no longer in debt. Not because I cleared everything. I actually didn’t do anything on my to-do list. Instead I invested time in myself. Practicing, meditating, reading, writing and reflecting. Basically, building up credit in my account.
I felt that my account had been balanced. And along the way, I learned that there are many ways to climb out of the mental debt that I will carry from time-to-time.