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.
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?