The Real Reason You Need a Digital Detox: A Visit to New Mexico's Gorgeous Sunrise Springs

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When was the last time you took a digital detox? That’s right, actually put down your phone for more than a few minutes or hours—and not to watch television or stare at your computer. It’s probably been a while, right--if ever? And, no, sleeping doesn’t (totally) count either.

The Real Reason You Need a Digital Detox: A Visit to New Mexico's Sunrise Springs

Well, I'm here to tell you that it can be done--only, I didn't really do it. So, dear readers, learn from my shortcomings and give yourself the refreshing reprieve from emojiland.

Shortly after my daughter hit the two-year mark in September, I was invited to take my own digital detox—a journey to Sunrise Springs, a 70+ acre resort located in the dreamy relaxing mountain town of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

“Finally!” I thought to myself as I boarded the plane out of Los Angeles—anticipating both the relaxation on my very first overnight trip away from my daughter, and a legitimate reason to put down my digital devices (lest I get them surgically implanted into my hands).

But of course, that didn’t really happen.

I drove into Santa Fe from the Albuquerque airport--about an hour drive--which meant being tethered to either the GPS navigational system in the car, or my own mobile maps program. With spotty reception, I relied on both. I toured the local radio stations in search of "the perfect desert music"--only I kept landing on bad hip-hop or uninspired country music. I settled on the classical station.

Soon after I got into my rental car, I realized I hadn’t eaten much yet and it would be smart to stock up on a few foods and water for the trip. So, I Googled the nearest Whole Foods location. Then I checked my email and my texts. There were a few Facebook notifications I didn’t resist clicking on, either.

But, whatever, I still wasn’t at the resort; my digital detox hadn’t officially started yet. And plus, as a mom on her first solo trip away from her daughter, these were natural reflexes to check for any updates on her, right?

The rest of the drive up to Santa Fe went fairly routine; I only checked the devices for directions.

As soon as I arrived at the newly revamped resort, I was whisked away to its literal and figurative heart—a grassy medicine wheel at the center of the property. All guests are welcomed in the medicine wheel with a resident guide to honor the four directions and ground into the property. There’s a ritualistic Native American cleansing with sage and an encouraging introduction to help guests in their connection with the land and its history. It would have been nice to get to pee first, though. But, whatever—the air smelled crisp and kind of ancient, too. There was no toddler asking me for Elmo or "MORE PETZULS" to make crumbs all over my couch with. I took another breath of the mountain air.

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Sunrise Springs, a former retreat center, was purchased by the Scott Family in April of 2013, the same owners as Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs, about 50 miles north.

The land Sunrise Springs sits on has (obviously) Native American roots. It’s a cold-spring-fed property rich in cottonwood trees, aspen, and cypress. The director tells me there are all kinds of wild animals that live in the wooded area of the property including skunks and coyotes. (All I saw was a hummingbird and a grasshopper, though.)

After my welcoming, I was guided over to my room, a cozy casita with a working fireplace and large, Lego- and crayon-free bed. I lay down and drank in the silence. There was a full schedule for me—art therapy, spa services, sound healing—it all looked great except that, even though this was supposed to be a digital detox, it was actually a working trip. Ah, the life of an editor. I’d have about 3 hours worth of work each day. That’s okay though, I thought, going cold tofurky off of all of my devices might make me insane anyway. Like I'd start shouting out "command C!"; or "Control + Alt + Delete!" at the dinner table in a Tourette's-like episode as the 3G running through my veins slowly slipped away into the ethers. Plus, being on my first trip away from my daughter, we had plans to FaceTime every night, too.

That first night for dinner, I met with Wendi, the marketing director for Sunrise Springs and Ojo Caliente. She's a warm and passionate woman who wholeheartedly believes in the benefits of both properties and the myriad reasons most of us need places like these. She told me about the property, the programs, and Sunrise Springs’ bigger picture goals for its guests. It envisions itself as a place where people come to transform and reconnect with nature. It does this through its unique science-backed therapeutic programming, through its food, and through the land itself. And let's face it; most of us could use that reconnection. The sad reality is that few of us take enough time with nature on a regular basis. Most of us kill houseplants on the reg instead of diving into a forest for a mid-afternoon meditation. (Do humans totally suck or what?)

After dinner, we experienced one of Sunrise Springs’ most beloved therapies: a room full of puppies. That’s right! I kicked my boots off and headed into an avalanche of cuteness—six yellow lab puppies (and their adorably sweet momma). The dogs are bred as assistance animals and during their most irresistible phase (they were six weeks old) they serve to assist Sunrise Springs’ guests in laughing, relaxing, and connecting on that level only a fuzzy puppy can provide. (A word of caution would have been nice though; one of the puppies ate through my very expensive shirt!) I watched them tumble and squeal and topple over one another to get to their moms. As a relatively new mom myself, it's always nice to see how other creatures connect with their offspring on much the same level as we humans do.

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My second-day schedule at Sunrise Springs was jam-packed, but I had to cut out a few sessions because of looming work duties. I enjoyed a nice breakfast in the café with fresh-pressed juices, breakfast tacos, and fruit, and then met with Michael, the program director, down in the medicine wheel to talk about the work being done at the center and how it's all built on the four guiding principles of the medicine wheel--to heal the physical, the emotional, the mental, and the spiritual. This is done with a focus on "nature bathing," a practice taken from an ancient Japanese custom; the (aspirational) digitial detox; learning through experience (art, music, puppies, etc); and using food as medicine. It was an enlightening conversation that helped me to better understand and value the work being done at Sunrise Springs.

After my meeting with Michael, I headed back to my room to work with the wind rustling outside my door.

I was scheduled for a massage after lunch—and as a mother, it’s my duty to moms everywhere to take a complimentary massage whenever it’s offered. I could feel the snot, the dirt, and the dried (vegan) yogurt that's in a constant layer over my darling daughter falling off of my muscles, crumb by grosser crumb. The massage was gentle but intense enough that I wished I hadn’t eaten a huge lunch just before it.

I spent some time walking around the property after the massage, snapping a few photos with my phone (this was okay, I told myself, since I wasn’t checking email—except, I totally was).

The massage and the elevation made me feel ready for a little nap, so I headed back to my room before dinner to relax when I remembered I still had a little bit of work to do (an editor’s job is never done). So much for digital detoxing!

Soon it was time for yet another meal (a complimentary snack had been delivered to me while in my room). A few words about the food—the resort menu is not entirely vegan, but there is a focus on healthy plant-based options. Some of the ingredients are sourced locally, and there’s a greenhouse on the property where a few of the ingredients are also being cultivated. Still, for the price of the resort ($410 per night), I wasn’t blown away by the food. That’s not to say that it was bad—it certainly wasn’t. And for all I know, my digital detox could have been making everything taste off, anyway. Maybe it’s that I live in Los Angeles, and we have restaurants like Crossroads Kitchen and Sage Bistro that have taken vegan food to extraordinary levels of creativity and deliciousness. The vegan meals at Sunrise Springs tasted a little 1990s-vegan to me, with the exception of my last breakfast there, which was prepared by the sous chef. It was a scrumptious tofu scramble with avocado hollandaise sauce and a side of crispy potatoes.

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Fresh fruit juices were served with breakfast and lunch, and meal plans are generally crafted for each guest, so getting the meal you really want is the resort’s goal. I also think it maybe was too much food for me to begin with—I barely ate half of each meal, so maybe I just didn’t have that much of an appetite by the time I got to the next feast. Without chasing a toddler around all day, I really wasn't so hungry!

After dinner the second night, I was treated to a sound-healing session, which is not nearly as woo-woo as it sounds. Well, okay, maybe it is. But trust me, it doesn’t matter though because once you’re there, relaxing in between the silence and the sounds of ancient instruments, something truly magical happens. It really did feel like I was transported to a time before ringtones (or maybe it’s a place after our devices?). The musician (sound healer) was a humble, genuine artist who I could tell really loved the instruments. There was such a connection between him and the different musical tools—many from Peru—that at times it almost felt like he was playing them for the first time (even though it sounded like he has been playing them forever!). It was a real highlight of my stay at Sunrise Springs, and something I really wished I could have shared with my daughter. I thought about FaceTiming with her right then and there, but decided it was probably best to just remember to write about it instead of her shouting "WHAT'S THAT, MOMMY?" while the kind man played for us.

Music has long been a huge part of my life (I submit my top annual album picks to the Village Voice every year). My writing career actually started out at a world music magazine. Much like our connections with nature have been muted in the last century, so too is our relationship with real music. Sure, you probably listen to a lot of it on the ride to work, at your desk, or at the gym, etc--but it's not the same as that unrehearsed live performance with hand-carved indigenous instruments. All of our ancestors made music this way and there is something coded in our DNA that responds to it--even if we think the pan flute troupe on the subway platform is kind of annoying--it's most likely because we don't have the time to honor it the way we're designed to. Reconnecting with traditional music can be as rewarding as a reconnection with nature. And in my opinion, it's best when both are happening at the same time.

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The next morning, I was treated to a tour of the grounds with Michael, the soft-spoken program director. He brings a genuine warmth and legitimate psychological perspective to the resort, which also includes comprehensive art therapy, various healing modalities, and the animal therapy program. We spent a bit of time with a few Silkie chickens before I departed. They’re prized for their gentle demeanor and incredibly soft feathers. Michael says guests have profound experiences with the animals--and it’s no surprise to me as a vegan that working through emotional stuff for many people might include processing guilt over eating animals. I held a chicken on my lap and silently wished her species the freedom and respect our fellow earthlings deserve.

It was all a lot to think about and process as I finally headed back toward home (with a short stop in downtown Santa Fe to snap a few pics and get some presents for my daughter). The two days had flown by even though the quietude was (continually) interrupted by my tech work demands, and I admit it, a total addiction to my digital devices. But I still felt rested, recharged, and reconnected to nature’s WiFi—where we’re always plugged in, even if we’re too busy working with our tech devices or too totally couch-potatoed out to notice.

To reserve your visit to the gorgeous Sunrise Springs resort, visit the website here.

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images: Jill Ettinger

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