Yesterday was really just a normal Monday. We’re recovering from a short vacation, so there was laundry to deal with. The usual mess of toys and noise. Piano lessons. A bunch of phone calls to make that I’d been putting off.
I put in a significant amount of screen-time, too — playing around on Facebook, catching up on some blog-reading, answering emails. The TV was on too much. I made dinner, cleaned the kitchen, listened to my iPod, updated my calendar with upcoming obligations. Like I said, a normal Monday.
By 6:00 p.m., though, something was very wrong. I felt uneasy. Majorly uneasy. But I couldn’t have told you why. I felt worried, or as if I were dreading some impending disaster, but if you’d asked me to name it, I would have drawn a blank. I hate that feeling, that something’s wrong but I don’t know what feeling.
Somewhere around 7:50, I remembered a post over at Seedlings in Stone that has refused to fade into my memory; instead it nags at me, popping into my conscious thoughts when least expected. In it, L.L. talks about the restorative effect nature can have when we’re experiencing “directed-attention fatigue.” You really should click over to read her post for yourself, but the bottom line for me last night was that I decided to unplug, not just from technology, but from anything that required brain focus.
So I headed to our patio and claimed a chair. And just listened.
Here’s what I heard:
- The occasional hum of a car passing by on the main road.
- A dog barking in the next neighborhood.
- The buzz of cicadas in the trees that line our backyard.
- The neighbor’s air conditioning unit.
- A game of horseshoes being played just over the hill. I couldn’t see the participants, but I heard the sporadic clang of metal on metal, punctuated here and there with a manly “Yeah!”
- My cat mewing at me from the other side of the screen door.
- Birds twittering, bickering, tweeting their evening song.
Here’s what I didn’t hear:
As I sat on the patio, requiring very little of my brain, I realized that I was practically holding my breath. In order to stay alive, my body was making sure that air was passing in and out of my lungs, but my breaths were incredibly shallow, almost unnoticeable. I took a deep breath. Then exhaled it completely. Inhale. Exhale. Repeat. Repeat again. I could almost feel myself unwind as I made a point of breathing deeply.
I don’t really think of myself as having a Type A personality. I don’t go from one project to the next, always looking for another accomplishment. I don’t consider myself driven (in fact, most of the time, I need a good kick in the pants to get moving). But still, I rarely let myself disengage. When I have some spare time, I find I’m on the computer: emailing, reading, writing. Or I’m reading a magazine, knowing I need to deplete the magazine stack before it falls over. Or I’m listening to a podcast, learning something new. Or even reading a good book, enjoyable but still asking my mind to pay attention.
There’s nothing wrong with those activities, but since life already demands plenty of brain-engagement (listening to kids, dealing with household tasks, teaching kids, paying bills, etc.), I need to be purposeful about occasionally shutting down, unplugging, disengaging. Taking time to just listen and breathe.
If I don’t, I apparently end up in the condition in which I found myself last night: uneasy, on edge, almost irritable. Barely breathing without even realizing it.
By the time I headed to bed last night, that uneasy feeling was gone. Forty-five minutes on the patio, doing nothing but listening and breathing, had indeed been therapeutic.
How often do you completely unplug and disengage? Have you found nature (even nature infused with some neighbors, cars, or air conditioning units) to be restorative?