Friday, April 30, 2010

Our electronics, ourselves: Why not recharge ourselves as faithfully as we recharge them?

As I cleaned up the kitchen late in the day, I couldn’t help noticing something on the counter. It looked like all our portable electronics were holding a little conference. Within a couple of square feet of counter space lay two cell phones, a PDA and an iPod, all silent and inert but plugged in and charging up for the new day ahead.

Why, I found myself wondering, do we remember to recharge our electronics every night but we don’t do the same for ourselves?

Well, you could argue that those eight – or more often a little more than six – hours of sleep we get every night are our way of recharging. But in a freakishly paradoxical way, I was finding something so quaint in the way all our little handhelds were lying there together resting, their battery icons blinking as if to remind me that they were receiving the necessary electricity they needed to start fresh tomorrow. I admit it’s an odd image. Usually my metaphors of sustenance come from the stars, the sky, tall oak trees, water rushing over rocks. Not cell phones and iPods.

But what struck me about this image was the sense that we were treating our electronics better than we treat ourselves. Why can’t I recharge every evening after dinner? I wondered.

Because there’s too much else to do, that’s why. Once the kids are in bed I have to return emails, make school lunches for the next day, fold laundry, get the coffee prepped to turn on first thing in the morning. I can’t sit around recharging or I won’t be ready when the new day dawns.

Really? I asked myself. In what way would you be so very unready?

The kids wouldn’t have their lunches made. (Maybe I could do that while they’re eating breakfast.) Emails would have gone unanswered. (Does anyone really need to hear from me at 10 PM? Do I really have anything to tell them that couldn’t wait until 9 the next morning?) Laundry would pile up. (Sure. And then eventually over the weekend or when I need a short break from my desk or want an excuse to take in ten minutes of NPR, I’ll stop and fold it.) More importantly, isn’t it quite possible that I’ll have just as much to offer the world if I’ve had time for reading, thinking and sleeping as if I have a tidy household every night?

So I resolved then and there to try to do things differently in the evening, starting last night. I shut down my computer at 8 PM, and an hour later, once both kids were asleep, I crawled into bed with a book. I imagined myself filling up with energy just like the gadgets downstairs: not expending what little charge I had left and letting myself run nearly dry, but stopping and sitting still and letting that well of energy within me fill up again for a new day.

It felt so good that I’m determined to try it again. As I well know, habits like this are hard to maintain. Yes, it was wonderful to sit and read last night in the evening hours during which I usually do deskwork or housework, but it felt like a one-night break, not a new routine. But who knows? I’m a firm believer in the aphorism that it takes three weeks to instill a habit. Maybe I’ll try it for three weeks and see if I feel…rejuvenated. Energized. Recharged, rather than just efficient and, well, like someone who has folded all the laundry.

Learning a valuable life lesson from one’s iPod does not exactly have a Buddhist ring to it. But now that I think about it, it’s not like our electronics made that decision on their own to plug themselves in and recharge. (Though I’m sure Steve Jobs is working on that.) I did it for them, just as I tucked my children into bed at an appropriate time so that they will be rejuvenated when the new day dawns. All I need to do is give myself the same permission to cease daily labor and take time to recharge that I give my iPod, my PDA, my phone and, yes, my children.

So the laundry goes unfolded. It just might be worth it. And as I try to instill this new habit over the next few weeks, I’m looking forward to finding out.

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