Spring is my favorite time of year. In Texas, starting in April, the temperatures begin to reach that perfect level where you’re not too hot and you’re not too cold. The live oak trees drop all of last year’s leaves and at the same time they shed a green pollen that coats all the cars, sidewalks, and patios. New leaves burst forth, and the tree explodes in green.
There’s a beautiful creek that winds itself behind my apartment complex, underneath a nearby road, and through several corporate office buildings. The trees and plants along the creek come alive with new growth. The baby leaves are so frail and thin, almost see-through in the light of the morning sun.
As the afternoons grow longer, thanks to more sunlight, I can’t help but want to take a meandering walk with Rupert, my corgi, out of my apartment complex and along the creek near the corporate buildings. A couple of weeks ago I decided to listen to Tim Ferris’ podcast interview with Jane Goodall, a few days before Earth Day, as I enjoyed my walk with Rupert.
This was my first time really getting to know Jane Goodall. I’ve heard of her over the years in reference to chimpanzees but I didn’t know much more about her. As I listened to the stories of her childhood, I got a strong sense of who she was and where she came from. She came from the generation before there was a TV in every home, not to mention, now every room.
Instead of a childhood stuck indoors in front of some form of a screen, she relayed a childhood spent outside, chasing chickens to understand where eggs come from, and climbing trees. She had once spent so long outside, away from home, one afternoon that her mother almost called the police to help find her.
Her childhood in nature certainly formed her love of nature and animals which allowed her to grow into the woman she is today as an activist for chimpanzees and the environment. But even as she’s evolved with the rest of the world into the technological age, she hasn’t taken to screens the way the generations following her have.
She reflects that to this day she’s not one to really watch TV. She’d rather read a book or spend time outside or with loved ones. As I heard her say this, I experienced this deep connectedness she had to herself, her family, and nature. There was a sense of wholeness unencumbered by the seductive nature of our modern technological world.
I, on the other hand, had a different experience growing up. By the time I came around, we were well into the age of TV. While I did spend a significant amount of time outside playing as a child, I spent just as much time sitting in front of a TV.
As a young kid, my parents bought me a tiny TV for my room one Christmas. I was able to watch videotapes on it and even record TV shows on my videotapes, which I did religiously. Watching TV was my favorite pastime, especially as I began to hit puberty.
During puberty, I often found myself feeling super fatigued. I was so tired that I had no energy to go outside. Plus, being outside began to feel nasty to me. I didn’t like being sweaty and getting dirty.
To top it all off, during my seventh grade year of school, my family moved to the manicured city of Frisco, where I encountered for the first time, empty neighborhood streets. Children just simply did not play outside. It was alarming. There was a desolate, lonely, and isolating feeling to the neighborhood. But nevermind that, I had my TV.
It wasn’t until I reached college that I began to rekindle my relationship with nature and the great outdoors. But my relationship with TV didn’t begin to change until the last few years. I don’t recall what sparked it. I remember having a conversation with my partner at the time that I thought it was a good idea to get rid of cable. We could use one of the streaming providers instead for all our TV needs.
It seemed like a big deal at the time to cut the cable cord. In retrospect, it was no big deal at all. My same TV consumptive habits continued with Netflix, Amazon Prime, and YouTube. You may know these habits. They look a lot like coming home from work and watching TV until bed. Days off from work were spent watching TV, too. Pretty much watching TV every day of the week, especially in the evenings, for several hours.
But over the last several years that all began to change. Slowly, I decided that watching less and less TV would be better for my spiritual well being. I started delegating TV watching to certain times. I did pretty well with cutting back. But TV has still very much been a central activity of my life.
As I walked along the creek and felt the wind blow past me and into the treetops along the surface of fresh leaves, Jane Goodall’s story grabbed my heart and mind. I could sense what a fulfilling life she lived. Her time and energy were well spent. At that moment, I got a strong desire to create a fulfilling, wholesome, well-spent life as well.
I sensed into my life as it is and as it has been and as it could be. I saw how in many ways my life has been very fulfilling. But it was only the day before where I sat on the couch watching TV, feeling this creeping feeling of doubt and fear that my life was passing me by.
At that moment, I felt scared that somehow I will arrive at the end of my life without ever having lived. Which is crazy talk, if you know me, because I’m such a proponent for living a passionate, soul-centered life.
But there I was, feeling as though I couldn’t truly say I was living my most fulfilled life. And I couldn’t quite put my finger on how to get to that point. I couldn’t quite grasp how to move from that scared and doubtful feeling into a space of complete fulfillment.
How does one finally arrive into the fullness of their life in the present moment? How does one finally get to that place where one can confidently say, “Yes, this is it. I am living my life to the absolute fullest (to the best of my ability, even within my unique circumstances). And this feels good.”
While I can’t say this is the answer for everyone, but in listening to Jane Goodall I heard the answer loud and clear. What was one thing different about how she lived her life compared to how I lived mine? TV.
Her relationship with TV was drastically different than my own. First of all, most of her time is spent working towards her mission in life, which makes a true difference as well. But, in addition, she spends her free time, if she has any, reading, writing, being outside or with loved ones – not zoning out in front of a screen. She spends her free time in ways that nurture the heart, soul, mind, and body.
Not that TV can’t be medicine, as it surely can be at times, but I find now after careful reflection that TV has given so little compared to how much it has taken. When I look back over my life, years have been spent simply going to school or work and then giving all my free time to TV, and, somewhere between all of that, moments of joyful play with loved ones, frolics in nature, and deep dives into novels. But the latter far fewer than the former.
In my memories of life, I don’t ever reflect back and think, “Oh, that whole week I spent home from work watching TV was the best week of my life.” Never. TV creates a void in my memory, as though there are pockets of time where nothing happened at all. In reality, nothing did happen. I sat in front of a TV for hours, if not days.
When I imagine my future from the perspective of doing life how I’ve always done it, I see the same void space filling my years, speckled with infrequent moments of fullness and life. If you imagine it visually for a moment, so you can have a taste and a feel of what I mean, think about the rest of the year (it’s spring now, so think through summer into fall and into winter).
Now imagine a year of memories mostly dark (representing restricted and narrow focus at work and the empty space spent vegging on the couch in front of TV) with a few breaks in the dark with memories that are bright, vivid, colorful, and full of life. It reminds me a bit of morse code: . —— .. —-. ——-. —. ———. ——–. . .——.—–.-.-.—–. Do you see how there’s so much more darkness than there is brightness?
Work doesn’t necessarily have to be a dark memory for me. It tends to be because I spend all day inside a hospital for twelve hours. And if patients keep their blinds down, I won’t see outside. By the time I get outside the sun is setting. Combine that with the dark void of sitting in front of a black box. For you, it may look different. But for me, this is how I imagine my year will be – again – if I keep incorporating TV into my life as I have always done.
Sitting on the plush, cool grass beside the pond where the creek terminates, I decided to see what my life would look like if I took TV out of the picture. Suddenly, I saw light and warmth fill my entire year. I looked down all the way to December. I felt so excited. I then looked out over the expanse of my whole life. It felt so good.
I could see myself spending my evenings eating delicious food as I watch the sun set or reading a fiction book as I lay back on my chaise lounge on my patio and look out over a beautiful field with a line of trees on the horizon.
I can see long conversations over glasses of wine with friends and family. I can see nature walks and time spent playing with my dog. I can see myself traveling the world and working in my garden. I can see joy, laughter, and wholeness. The vision felt so good.
I realized then that I needed to do it. I needed to quit TV. I got up off the ground and slowly walked back to my apartment with Rupert. Along the way, I marveled at the great trees that lined the roadway, and I soaked up the setting sun. A warmth began to rise in my belly. Inspiration tickled my bones. I went home and spent the night reading.
The No TV Experiment
By the time this post is published on my website, it will have been one week since I stopped watching TV. I’ll be giving up TV for one entire month. No TV means no Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, YouTube TV, or whatever streaming service. I may still watch YouTube videos of a length shorter than a TV show but not multiple in a row for a long period of time. This also includes no movies.
At the end of the month, I’ll share another post about my experiences and all my reflections, as there will be many, I am certain. At the same time, I’ll evaluate how I’ll go forward. I’ll decide whether I’ll re-incorporate TV back into my life, as in how much and how often, if at all.
The purpose of this experiment is to determine whether my vision by the pond holds any water (no pun intended). The question: does my life feel brighter, fuller, and more lively when I eliminate TV? In the process, I’ll have to grapple with another very important question: how will I spend all the time I’d normally be watching TV? Many things come to mind but I’ll cover all of these ideas in my follow-up post.
Until then, happy living! And may nature be your greatest ally.