The timing couldn’t have been better – a weekend meditation retreat at the Maharishi Peace Palace coinciding with sending off my smart phone for a battery replacement. I would be digitally untethered. Except for the Kindle that I inherited from my mother – the charmingly named “Next of Kindle”. I had promised to read a screenplay for a friend which makes me sound terribly important, whereas in fact I believe I am just a soft target for enthusiastic feedback. Send me yours if you don’t believe me.
At the last moment before departure, I decided to scrape most of my memoir together into a pdf, convert it to a mobi file and send it to my Kindle in case the retreat allowed some time for introspection, beyond the navel gazing and transcending. The memoir, I reasoned, would remind me of what my youth had been like, when I last documented it in 2014 or thereabouts. It also made me a published author in some way – having a book I’d written (really a set of Evernote documents pasted together in haste) available (to me) on the Kindle. Tick that off the bucket list again.
With my dumb phone in hand (a trusty Nokia I had bought for £10 when I last decided to give my smart phone and more hopefully my scalenes a break from too much chin-jutting social media) I looked at my iPhone. The ever unreliable, ever-uncharged 6s model – the subject of lawsuits the world over. Turning it off actually filled me with more dread than anticipated. No more WhatsApp messages for work or my family. No more tracking every excruciating detail of each run in the CouchTo5k program. No more email. No more incessantly checking the weather instead of poking my head out the door.
For the first time in about 4 years, I put on my email autoresponder – Ron has left the building. I told a few business partners that I would be AFK. I gave Mrs. Malibu the phone number of the meditation centre and told my kids not to expect photos, facetime, videos or any of that. For me, this was all much, much bigger than I thought it would be.
So much so, that after I carefully put the SIM card from smart to dumb phone, I was actually shaking. Putting the iPhone 6s into the protective package and then the post was harrowing. And as I walked with my bags packed towards the train to the meditation palace, I actually wondered if I was dying. Going to a place I couldn’t contact my loved ones. What had I left behind? Was my legacy just some property and some memories? Good job I’d written that book about my life and published it – don’t want to die with that inside me. (Though I don’t want anyone to read it either – it’s too sordid in places for my family to see it.)
There’s nothing like a 4 hour 42 minute train journey that ends up taking over 8 hours to reinforce the feeling of dying. I arrived at the centre and was shown my room. Everything was white. Large. Exactly how heaven is depicted in western movies (from the West, not Clint Eastwood) though it might be depicted that way in eastern movies too – I just haven’t seen them. White walls, light carpet, white bed sheets, white hair on the graceful lady at reception. Not just blonde hair. White hair.
I read the schedule and learnt that in an effort to reduce plastic bottles, I could swap out my stoppered glass water bottle in the foyer, and that I wasn’t to drink the tap water. I drank deeply from the bottle and lay on my bed, weary from the journey. As I bust out my Kindle and read my autobiography, I was losing my battle with consciousness. Three thoughts went through my mind:
- What’s in the water – I’ve been drugged – I’m slipping away
- Is this my life flashing before my eyes in the Information Age? A set of words on a Kindle being the last thing I’ll ever see
- I’m dying. I’m not ready to die.
Over the following days, I drank much more water, and my metabolic rate dropped significantly. Through yoga and meditation and instruction I became more peaceful. I slept an awful lot. Most often when a DVD of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi himself was played. I slept sitting up. I slept face down on my bed. I slept in class. It was like being at university only without the kebabs or alcohol, and come to think of it, everyone was a fair bit older, and for the most part I didn’t skip the lectures, preferring to sleep through them instead.
At dinner I would sit next to a senior gentleman with a long white beard who gave very thoughtful answers to any questions. My god!
My graceful instructor for the weekend asked politely if I thought I’d be coming back. By this time it was day two, and I’d convinced myself that I wasn’t dying at any appreciably faster rate than normal, and quite possibly the opposite. I think the gentleman with the white beard had too much interest in steam trains of the Isle of Man to be any kind of deity, and I’d spotted a few cracks in the building that helped me think this wasn’t child christian’s heaven.
At the time I wasn’t sure I’d go back, but now I’m away from it, I definitely plan to do another retreat. It’s like a holiday that you come back from feeling better rather than nursing a sore liver.
And I still haven’t unpacked the box I received in the mail which I imagine contains a rejuvenated iPhone 6s.
iRon Malibu was depleted, but rumours of his demise were greatly exaggerated. Long live iRon Malibu.