Noticing What You Don’t Need

Blog Notice What You Don't Need by Rob Mac

Notice What You Don’t Need –
Five Things I Didn’t Miss When I Was Away At Camp

I spent last week at one of the largest Buddhist summer camp in the US. Every year for the past 3 years, I have been a volunteer counselor there working with kids age 8 – 18.

The kids are great, the setting is beautiful, and the staff is amazing. Each year when I go I step out of my daily routine filled with email and blogs. And I step into a routine that involves daily sitting, cooking s’mores, singing cheesy Buddhist camp songs, having water fights, and playing a modified version of hide and seek renamed hunt a monk.

After one week I return home, tired, scruffy, and happier then when I left. And within a few days I’m back to my old routine.

This year as I came home I started to think about my regular life compared to camp life. As I did, I realized that there were several things I didn’t even miss when I was at camp.

I began to get curious about why I didn’t miss these things at camp. And why, when I was at home, I felt like I needed them.

As I reflected I realized that the change in setting camp gave me, also offered perspective on my daily life.

Five Things I Didn’t Miss When I Was Away At Camp

1. Internet TV

I have a confession to make. I’m kind of hooked on internet TV. I don’t spend all day, everyday watching internet TV. But I do spend more time doing it than I would like to admit.

But when I was at camp I didn’t miss it at all. Which is strange because at home if I go a night or two without watching at least one of my current favorite shows, it feels like something is missing.

Why I didn’t miss it:

I realized that TV does two things for me. It is a place to rest my tired mind and it offers an imitation of human connection and relationships

Every night at camp, we would gather around the campfire to sing songs and play games. I realized that this is when I’d usually be watching TV online. So at camp I had a ritual and a space of connection right when my mind needed it the most.

Which left me wondering:

Is there any way we can create a space of connection and ritual in our daily lives that would satisfy those needs better than TV?

2. Video Games

Recently my brother in law showed me a game on his phone. And ever since, I have been playing it a little bit every day. I’ve watched my mind go through this process many times before.

I’ll find a new game. I’ll get hooked and play it for a while. Then I’ll realize that trying to win a game is kind of silly. And I’ll stop playing it.

But being at camp cut through this process. The whole week I didn’t think about the game except for a couple of occasions and I didn’t feel any urgency to play it at all.

Why I didn’t miss it:

I realized that video games offer me a space to play when I’m tired from working and a way to channel my competitive energy.

When I was at camp everyday I would play some version of capture the flag, ninja, or ultimate Frisbee. This helped me move my body, work with others, and use my competitive energy in a healthy way. In addition because I played more than I worked I rarely felt like I needed to take a break from anything.

Which left me wondering:

Why as adults don’t we play more games like tag or hide and seek? Is there a way we could add these or other games back into the healthy fabric of our lives?

3. Gourmet Coffee

Living in Portland will turn almost any coffee drinker in a coffee snob. It’s almost part of the fabric of the city itself.

In high school, I couldn’t tell much difference between the stale brown liquid sold at Waffle House and more gourmet blends. But now when I think of coffee I want something locally roasted, preferably prepared in a French press, and ground fresh.

But at camp everyday we drank coffee that came from a big tin can with a plastic lid on top. And it was friggin’ delicious.

Why I didn’t miss it:

There are three reasons I love drinking coffee: the ritual is satisfying, the warm liquid is comforting, and it offers a few moments of reflection.

Being at camp helped me realize that these factors are the same no matter what kind of coffee I drink. I can certainly appreciate a finely roasted bean. But my enjoyment of my morning ritual isn’t dependent on the grade coffee

It is the ritual itself that is truly satisfying. With familiar steps and a slow methodical technique, this act carries me gently into the day. And helps me start my day with calm and peace.

Which left me wondering:

What other aspects of my life could be helped by focusing more on the ritual and less on the components that make it up.

4. Checking my cell phone/email constantly

If you ever want to know how often you check your cell phone, just leave it at home for one afternoon when you go out. You’ll be amazed at the number of times you reach for it, even though you know it’s not there.

But at camp, I only checked my phone 2-4 times a day. Which was plenty. No one needed to get in touch with me urgently and though my email piled up a bit, I didn’t miss any important messages.

Why I didn’t miss it:

Checking our phones is a major unconscious habit that has all sorts of causes. It’s an escape from boredom and anxiety. But it’s also the cause of low-grade anxiety and boredom.

Often I rationalize my phone usage as the result of my desire to connect with others.
But when I was at camp, my life was centered on interacting with and connecting with people face to face in real time. Because this connection was so much more satisfying than the connecting over or through the phone, I hardly noticed I wasn’t using it.

It also dispelled any illusions of self-importance I had, about people needing to get in touch with me. In truth for most of us constant contact is not essential and often a hindrance to being present.

Which left me wondering:

Why have we exchanged the joy of personal interaction for electronic interaction if it’s so much less satisfying? Is there a way we could do a better job of ignoring our phones and paying more attention to people.

5. Listening To the Radio

I love staying up to date on current events so I listen to NPR on a regular basis. I often put it on when I’m doing the dishes or when I’m driving my girlfriends car. In addition, I often listen to music as I work and sometimes when I’m working out.

But at camp I didn’t listen to NPR or music at all, except for the music I played myself.

Why I didn’t miss it:

The reason I listen to the news is I enjoy feeling part of the larger world. I also like to be able to discuss important world events with others. The reason I listen to music is that I enjoy the energy it provides. And it helps keep my mind from getting a hard edge as I work.

But I realized that at camp I was connected to a larger whole in a much more organic way. I was regularly interacting with a large group of people who were also interacting with me. It helped me see that being connected to the world through the news is only a one-way interaction.

As for music, I played more music at camp then I had in months. It was a way to share the beauty with others. And it helped me connect with the energy of each song in a deeper way.

I saw at camp how music binds us together and how playing and listening to music helps create a community around it’s enjoyment.

Which left me wondering:

Why do we spend so much time listening to personal headphones and so little time playing and listening to music together?


As much as I loved and enjoyed camp I knew it had to end. But as I return to my regular life I hope to keep these questions in mind. I’m trying to notice all the excuses that arise about being too busy, not having enough friends, and how the world is messed up.

I’m not sure how I will integrate these questions into my life. But I do know that it has made me take a hard look at what I need and my strategy for meeting those needs.

One thing is for sure. It has strengthened my belief that we must from time to time get out of our environment. Because when we do, we gain a unique perspective of our lives.

I highly encourage everyone to seek this escape on a regular basis. Whether it’s a weekend in the woods, a week volunteering at a camp, or a ten day meditation retreat. No matter how you manifest this shift, when you do you may be surprised at what you miss and even more so what you don’t.

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4 thoughts on “Noticing What You Don’t Need

  1. Great post -thankyou. I’ve been working on the phone checking and availability. An important rule for me is that the people I’m actually present with come first, and my phone will be on mute: I want to focus on my companions and on the moment and it seems to say something about the priority I place on my friends if I’m constantly checking for – or even worse, taking – calls and messages while I’m with them. Except for the occasional situation in which I’m waiting for a vital call, my phone only has the sound on when I’m not with other people. And I try only to check it when I’m alone. Next – how to stop compulsive checking of email and Facebook when I’m at home!

    1. That’s a great intention for phone use. I’d like to better at that myself.

      As for email and Facebook. I try not to check email before breakfast but even that can be hard sometimes. Thanks for reading and commenting.

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