Full Life Reflections

Striving for happiness, peace, and fulfillment in a chaotic world

Yesterday morning, the power went out in my apartment and didn’t come back on until late in the afternoon. In today’s post, I share my thoughts about that experience, what I learned from it, and how I plan to take these lessons forward in my life.

It’s a strange feeling when the power goes out. Everything just kind of … stops. It’s not a common occurrence around here, but it happens often enough that I wasn’t too rattled by it. Usually, the power comes back on after about an hour, so I decided to read a book I’d been meaning to finish and just wait. When close to two hours had passed, I began to panic a little bit. I didn’t want my entire day to go down the proverbial tubes. I called the power company to find out what was going on and learned that city workers drilling into concrete nearby had damaged some electrical equipment. It wasn’t expected to be fixed until at least 3 p.m.

lessons from a power failure

The Best Laid Plans…

I had planned to do many things yesterday, including writing and publishing a blog post. I was understandably annoyed at the turn of events, but it actually ended up being one of the best days I’ve had in a long time. Instead of raging against something I couldn’t control, I decided to just go with it. What I didn’t expect was how quiet and peaceful it would be. All of the normal hustle and bustle of my neighbors running appliances and milling around was gone. I felt like I could breathe more easily and I gave myself permission to remove any expectations around what I would accomplish.

Shortly after I had settled into a very different type of day, my phone rang. It was a friend who I hadn’t spoken to in over a year. If the Internet had been on and I was busily working at my computer, I probably would have let the call go to voicemail, rationalizing that I would call her back “soon” so we could catch up. This type of scenario often happens and “soon” can turn into weeks or months before I make that return call. Instead, I answered the phone yesterday and my friend and I had a wonderful hour-long conversation that I look back upon as a gift and a joy.

I also took the time to make myself a big salad for lunch and enjoyed it while watching YouTube videos on my phone. No, I didn’t take a full “digital sabbatical,” but I allowed myself to interact with the Internet in a different way than I usually do, a more passive and peaceful way. There were no “shoulds” around tasks to complete or people to contact, as is generally the case for me on a typical weekday. After I had a leisurely lunch and watched several videos, I cleared off my desk and went through some files. These were non-urgent tasks, the type I usually put off until after all of my “important” projects are completed. Yet I felt good after completing them, as a tidy environment helps me to experience more inner calm.

Surrendering into Calm

Actually, that’s the best way to describe how I felt yesterday: calm. After I got over my initial disappointment at not being able to use my computer, I surrendered to the truth of my situation. I sincerely doubt I would have done this even a year ago, before selecting “peace” as my theme for 2017. I would have bitched and moaned and been irritated for hours, continually checking the outage updates on my phone while panicking about all of my undone tasks. Instead, I remembered my word for this year, “essential,” and asked myself what really had to get done yesterday. What couldn’t wait until today or even next week? The answer was pretty much nothing, so I let go of my anxiety and relaxed into a different type of day that ended up being a better one.

I was actually a bit sad when the power switched back on at just after 4 p.m., but I recognized that I still had a choice as to what to do then. I could have rushed to my computer and tried to make up for lost time, but I chose not to do that. I had been looking forward to going for a walk by the water before dark, so that’s what I did. Fortunately, my husband arrived home before I left and was able to join me. The computer and all of its many tasks could wait, as the sea air and the beach birds beckoned. I allowed the evening briskness to invigorate my body and spirit. Nothing was more important to me at that moment than enjoying an evening walk and talk with my wonderful husband. That was what was essential to me at that time, not catching up on my email, scrolling through Facebook, or even writing this blog post.

What Really Matters?

Life is not just about being busy and productive. She who checks the most items off of her to-do list doesn’t win, and what does it mean to “win” anyway? What are we ultimately striving for? What type of life do we want to be living? I recently re-read the story of the Mexican fisherman, which is basically a parable about the joys of simple living. The fisherman wasn’t wealthy and he didn’t live in a palatial estate, but he had all that he needed to be happy in life. He was able to provide food for his family by working a few hours each day. Otherwise, he slept in, played with his children, took daily siestas with his wife, and sipped wine and played guitar in the evenings with his amigos. His was the epitome of a full life, at least in my opinion.

I often say that I want a simple and quiet life, yet I continue to push myself to do more in an attempt to justify my existence through my accomplishments. Many of us do this, such that our lives become more about doing than being. We postpone our relaxation and enjoyment for the weekends, our yearly vacations, and a distant retirement that we may not live long enough or be healthy enough to appreciate. Yes, there are bills to pay and ends to meet, but most of us have the freedom to pause and enjoy more often than we do. I know I have far more freedom than I usually choose to embrace.

One thing I learned from yesterday is that I don’t need a power failure to come along in order to take a step back and claim some peace and freedom for myself. This is something I can choose to do on a regular basis. One way to do so is to strip my life more down to what’s essential and let go of the rest. So many of the items on my to-do list – and many of our to-do lists – don’t even need to be done at all, and even those tasks that are necessary can often wait a day or two or even more. We can have that phone conversation with a friend, take that walk outside, read that book, or watch that movie. With a little perspective shift, we can realize that some of those “it would be nice” activities are the ones that will add the most value and happiness to our lives. I vow to dial my to-do list back a few notches and to do more things that bring me joy each day and week. How about you?

18 thoughts on “Lessons from a Power Failure

  1. Vivien says:

    Hey Debbie, this hit me right in the heart. I tend to be quite frantic in life and tend to expect myself to be super productive all day all the time. There have been times when one little thing at the start of the day derails my entire day and I don’t end up getting ANYTHING done because of it. This is why to do lists never work for me; one deviation from it and I’m out. I also had a similar experience to your power out situation. Since returning to uni I managed to obtain an internship which required me to travel and live interstate. The place I stayed in (well, am, but I only have a few days left and my internship has just finished) didn’t have unlimited internet like I did at home. Knowing that I watch 10hrs+ YouTube videos a day at home (we have unlimited internet), there was no way I could get by with just 100GB a month. So I devised a strategy to deal with that (download videos in lower quality to watch later). On top of that, I decided to explore the new city as much as I could. Normally I don’t do this – see homebody who watches a lot of YouTube videos. And it’s been really good for me to have been going out every weekend, but the thing I’ve found is that I try and cram so much into each day because there’s so much that I want to see and do and experience. I pick and choose, of course, but it’s still tough to get what I think is a full experience.

    On one of those days I ended up doing far less than I thought I would. That’s because I ended up meeting a few people up at a rooftop pub during the early afternoon and so I just let go and went with the flow of talking with new people, and it now stands as one of the most memorable days in my travels. And despite my general franticness even with all the touristy stuff I’m doing, it’s not the same as the stress that the internet can give me. And weirdly enough, I don’t feel empty. I have been reading over a paper, started a tiny bit of a statistics course. I hope that I can complete them before uni starts or at least get close to it. It’s funny, isn’t it, the things you end up doing when things like blackouts occur. You end up doing things completely different to what you would normally do because there IS nothing else to do.

    Of course, my lessened emptiness could also be because during the internship there were clearly defined work hours and weekends off whereas during semester a uni student never, EVER gets a moment off, not really. But it’s still interesting because there’s balance at the moment and it feels really good. And I too have realised that even when I get back home I still have that choice to separate myself from the internet when I want to. The problem is seeing whether that works in practise.

    Also, I absolutely would have bitched and moaned as well. I’d like to think I wouldn’t now, but I guess I won’t really know that until I’ve actually been in that situation since my realisations.

    Sorry for the long comment again. Excited to see more blogging from you and welcome back.

    1. debbier says:

      I enjoy reading your long comments, Vivien, and I appreciate your being so open with all of us here. I’m glad that you were able to shift the way you spend your time as well as well as your perspective as a result of your recent internship. Sometimes we need something like that to break us out of our ruts. I often don’t want to leave my home sanctuary, either, but I often benefit from doing so. I’m glad you’re feeling less empty and I hope that you find a way to carry what you’ve learned back into your life back at uni. I think we all need some breaks from the Internet, even if they are short. The power failure definitely reminded me of that fact.

  2. Terra says:

    Debbie, we are on the same writing thought wave. I wrote about this the last time our electricity went out.

    “No Internet. No emails to be answered. No electric stove, no microwave, no hot tea. But I found a patch of sunlight on the corner of the couch. Wrapped in a blanket, with a pad of paper and a pencil I wrote for hours, finishing up the first draft of the new book I’m working on, another memoir. I ate apples, almonds and goat cheese for lunch. The sun played against the crystal, and when the afternoon shadows melted into liquid dusk, I lit candles.

    I hope the electricity goes out again today.”

    I work hard Monday through Friday I almost always take the weekends off. And in the past it tossed me away when our electricity goes out on a regular workday. Now I think of the days when our electricity goes out, or when our internet goes down, as “Snow Days.” It’s a free day off work. ☺

    I’m glad you are finding peace of mind. If you don’t already schedule regular down time for yourself I hope you will begin making time to putter, daydream, rest and renew your spirit.

    1. debbier says:

      Your power failure day sounds wonderful, Terra, and I love the way you wrote about it. I thought about writing during my power failure day, but I’m still pretty out of practice with it and am easing back into a writing routine. It’s been a long time since I wrote with a pad and pencil, but why not? I have been doing a lot better with taking time off from the Internet, social media, and my computer. It’s helped me a lot to give those breaks to myself!

  3. Rosa says:

    Thank you, Debbie for sharing your special day. It made me reflect on ways that I too can enjoy continous peace just by reshifting my thinking. I love your writting and so happy you are back!

    1. debbier says:

      I’m glad you liked this post, Rosa, and I wish you more peace moving forward!

  4. Leah says:

    What a good reminder for all of us to unplug. Peacefulness can be found in simpler pursuits; the digital era seems to have shrunk the time we spend gardening, knitting, cooking. Its hard to remember this in our busy lives. As I type this on an electronic keyboard in a digital format….

    1. debbier says:

      You’re so right, Leah! I think it really is all about balance. The internet isn’t “bad” and it can be a useful tool, but those other types of pursuits that you described also have great value. It’s hard to prioritize them sometimes, be we definitely benefit when we do!

  5. Helen says:

    Good for you, Debbie. When I was working and had kids still in the house, I was one of those who took pride in being busy, getting things checked off. Since I have retired 7 years ago and am in my 70’s, I have come to the realization that you wrote about–a little late, but not too late. I am happy, though, that I took 10 or so years off from working outside to give my kids lots of time. It was when I returned to work and they were in school that things became hectic. You are wise in your power failure awakenings!

    1. debbier says:

      You’re right that it’s not too late, Helen! I wish I would have stopped the “busyness” merry-go-round a long time ago, but I’m glad to be taking a few steps back now. I hope you continue to enjoy your retirement!

  6. Tonya says:

    The part that really jumped out to me was “I often say that I want a simple and quiet life, yet I continue to push myself to do more in an attempt to justify my existence through my accomplishments.” This is one of the main lessons that I’ve been learning the last year or so. I will spend a lot of time wanting or planning- writing lists and such, but not nearly as much time doing. If things are going to change I need to DO something different no matter how uncomfortable or unnatural it feels.

    1. debbier says:

      I think sometimes we do a lot of planning, Tonya, so we FEEL like we’re actually taking steps to change our lives. I know that has been the case for me, but those lists are just that and don’t really shift my reality. I’m now making fewer lists and trying to prioritize that which will really add value to my life. I still need to make some scary shifts, especially when it comes to being social, but at least I feel less mired in quicksand in recent weeks. I wish the same for you!

  7. Claire says:

    I thought one of the coolest things about your story was how the peaceful seeds you planted, all the work you did in your year of peace, came to bear so fruitfully in this situation. Such a heartening example of how our inner work is never futile – everything counts, and is baked in to what comes afterwards. And I love how you were not rigid, but flexible and easy on yourself about how to use the time – like, just because there was no power didn’t mean you had to somehow save your phone battery and deny yourself the pleasure of using your device peacefully/passively and discovering how “to interact with the Internet in a different way”. So well said. Maybe sometime, at some point, we as a community could have a sort of simulated power outage together, and then come back together to interact here. No hard rules, no pressure or obligation, just a shared space for a little experiment for whoever feels called to try it. It might be a great excuse to put a little time aside for our selves in an unexpected way/time and alter our patterns a bit, like you’ve demonstrated here (an adult “Snow Day” as Terra so artfully put it). Just a dreamy thought for the future… 🙂

    1. debbier says:

      Wise words, Claire, and thank you for your praise. I love your “dreamy thought” about the simulated power outage. I think there is definitely value in taking some “downtime” for ourselves where we can just BE. I think that’s one of the things people love the most about vacations, the freedom to let go of the to-do lists and the need to be “on” all the time. But we can enjoy that same sense of freedom at home, too. It takes a shift in perspective and some discipline, but it’s so valuable. My husband suggested I take his laptop to a coffee shop so I could get some of my “stuff” done on Friday, but I’m glad I followed my instincts and had a quiet day at home. It really was what I needed on many levels!

      1. Claire says:

        Hell yeah, your instincts (or i could also say, *intuition* 🙂 ) were in full effect that day, Debbie! That is so inspiring.

        Totally agree about vacations – I like nothing but the loosest of plans on a vacay. xo

  8. Terry says:

    It’s so interesting how one woman’s epiphany can be the mirror image of another’s – similar but reversed. I don’t need to dial down my accomplishment drive; I feel that I’ve already put in adequate time and effort, and then some. What I need to do is cut back on smelling the roses. My spirit animal is a tabby cat curled up on a puddle of blanket in a pool of sunshine. I have no trouble living in the moment and enjoying its pleasures. So what’s the problem? Things don’t get done. I used to be driven by deadlines, but they no longer apply. Now, I need to learn how to live in the future enough to motivate myself to spend part of the present on tedious chores. Yes, it hurts to exercise, tidy the house, care for the dog, work in the yard and run errands. Yes, I would rather rendezvous with the couch and a good book. On the other hand, my life is better when I am stronger and more mobile, my home is clean and attractive, the inhabitants are healthy and happy, and things in general are running smoothly. “Domestic diva” I will never be, but I hear habit is a great replacement for willpower, so I’m working on creating habits that will get me where I want to be. It’s definitely a process.

    1. debbier says:

      It really is all about balance, isn’t it, Terry? Too much of almost anything can be problematic and I find it’s more difficult to strike that “happy medium” than it is to be all or nothing about something. I love what you wrote about your spirit animal and living in the moment. I think it’s great that you’re able to do that, but I understand that chores need to get done, too. Habits can be very powerful and I wrote about that some in my next post and will continue to write about it. It can take a month or two to build a habit that has some staying power, but it can be well worth it to do so. Best of luck to you on putting some new habits in place. I don’t think I’ll ever be a “domestic diva,” either, so you’re in good company 🙂

  9. Claire says:

    Yes, I hear you Terry. Everything is a balance, the one making the other sweeter 🙂

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