Why Practicing Withdrawal Can Empower You for Personal Growth

Why Practicing Withdrawal Can Empower You for Personal Growth

As I sat at the table, I realised I had left the phone in my car, which the valet had taken away to park.

I gazed down at my hand. Where normally my smartphone would be, I could see my deeply lined palm.

Suddenly feeling liberated, I decided to let the phone be.

While I waited for the rest of the dinner party to arrive, I looked around. There were families, couples and groups of friends among the diners.

The kids were staring into their phones. The moms did not have one or chose to keep it away. The dads were keeping up with the latest Cricket World Cup scores online and sharing it with no one in particular. After a while, the moms got their phones out.

I was alone at my table. All these people were alone, together.

Why do we fear withdrawal?

That day, I was probably the only weirdo out there without a screen to look at. In a world full of distractions and demands, this was my chance to just be.

Any voluntary disengagement like this is routinely met with judgment and pushback –whether from screens, routine work or day-to-day life.

We are required to be constantly available for every call, party or event. It is for the collective good, we are told, to help things move forward.

As social beings, we seem obliged to say yes and show up reliably. The space for withdrawal is shrinking.

Many hairs have been split over the great resignation or quiet quitting – both recent phenomena. From those debates, it is clear how voluntarily choosing to say ‘No’ is frowned upon.

We fear the backlash that ‘going away’ might cause. So much that we are rarely curious about what withdrawal might do to us, for us.

What do we gain by disengaging?

If we still persist and find the courage to extract ourselves from the world’s demands, we find a parallel universe full of mental fulfillment, a chance to upgrade our SOPs and obtain personal freedoms.

Taking a step back is not de-growth but regrowth.

Disengaging is not just about recharging our batteries to return with a vengeance.

It is about examining what we choose to come back and engage with. By being less connected, we give ourselves the space to delve within, reassess where we are, and re-plan where we want to be.

Creating that space allows the time to slow down. You are accountable only to your internal clock.

A couple of friends and I have started retreating every three months to check in. It is like having a QGM with ourselves.

We used to make long-term plans. Ever since COVID-19, we set our sights not further than the next six months. Yes, we have life goals, but the progressive actions to those goals don’t extend beyond these months.

Making our availability finite gives us a chance to course correct. Most importantly, it stops us from feeling overwhelmed with tasks that stretch into the endless future.

We are building endurance for the long haul, minus the burnout.

Work is virtuous. Or is it?

I remember a friend’s first attempt at wood joinery. As a self-taught woodworker, she had chosen to start with a mortise joint. She failed to get the correct angle about seven times before making a perfect one on the eighth try.

Imagine having to track her work by productivity measures and workload norms of modern industrial standards. She would be a failure.

By constantly preaching how virtuous work is and how we must work tirelessly to achieve the goal, we are shrinking the space we give to learning and internalising that knowledge.

We are taxing ourselves and our loved ones by constantly being in the thick of things, sharing unsolicited opinions, and going all out in everything we do.

Statements like hustle culture and rapid growth – threaten the chances of a life that includes contemplation, seeking and living the journey.

It is as if the goal is money. Money is everything. And you need to get there in the shortest time possible.

Nothing could be more counter intuitive.

Practicing withdrawal for personal growth

Withdrawal is universally associated with defeat or shameful failure. It is the very opposite of engagement.

What we forget is that to withdraw is to repair, reward and then grow from that empowered place.

It is an essential place for personal growth, away from any attempts to monitor every minute or monetize the outcomes. It is what you choose NOT to do with this sacred space that makes it so powerful and sacrosanct.

Create the space and protect it at all costs.

Taking a step back is not a defeatist tactic. Instead, it is a deliberate act of freeing yourself to ask crucial questions.

It is a space for restoration of a life that makes it safe to engage with yourself the issues you are grappling with fully and to absorb what you’ve learnt.

The pandemic gave us that pause and the opportunity to live our lives intentionally.

But we shouldn’t need such events to remind us to continue experimenting with ways to resist the deletions and depletions of everyday life if we want to grow.

One Reply to “Why Practicing Withdrawal Can Empower You for Personal Growth”

  1. what we term “withdrawal” today is a healing process as old as time.
    traditional , modern , conservative , unorthodox forms of meditation prescribe this healing in so many ways. vipassana being one of them i believe. abstinence from basic given like food . cleansing from within.. you are so right , it can only open the mind to unimaginable possibilities.

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