My internet was out for almost 14 hours recently. At first, I assumed it was me, and I tried everything I knew to reboot and reconnect without being successful. This meant plugging and unplugging, checking my router, getting up and down (which is challenging and not the least graceful) to see if there were loose connections somewhere.

All of which made no difference. I could not access my internet. Helpful prompts telling me to run different diagnostics on my laptop and my cell phone were actually not all that helpful, and in short order, became amazingly annoying! 

Faced with this unscheduled disconnect, I had to come to terms with life abruptly changing without any input from me, and my no longer having access to what I now understand much more clearly to be strategies for dealing with boredom, anxiety, and loneliness. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Laying the Blame Somewhere Else

Once I had determined that I was not at fault, I immediately jumped to the conclusion that it was my lousy internet provider screwing up once again. Mind you, there was no evidence to support that conclusion, just the laser-like indictment making “them” wrong!

While I wasn’t conscious of this at the time, this was the first of several exercises in my seminar. This exercise was designed to illustrate a habitual pattern I have of jumping (nay, leaping!) to conclusions and laying blame on others. The secondary benefit of this pattern is that I get to exonerate myself from any wrongdoing, thereby allowing me to feel justified in saying really nasty things about “them”.

The First Lesson:  When Feeling Overwhelmed, Pause

It is only with reflection that I recognize that my response to all of this was to “pause”. All I did was decide to go to bed instead of watching TV. It wasn’t intentional. It didn’t arise from years of meditation practice. It wasn’t me even recognizing that I was overwhelmed! It was just a happy accident of it being bedtime and my deciding that I was tired anyway. So, I went to bed fulling expecting that my life would have returned to “normal” the next day.

This was the “PAUSE”. I am embarrassed to admit that this is the same advice I give so freely to others – when you feel overwhelmed, just take a moment and breathe. Slow down and pay attention to what is happening right now. Trope after trope of mindfulness meditation, calming exercises, and solid cognitive behavioral skills all of which are designed to lower the stress response.

I am embarrassed because I didn’t realize that I needed to give this advice to me, but I am ever so glad that unconsciously I did it, because – and here comes the clincher, this actually works!  Who knew??????

But, Wait!  There’s More!

I got up the next day and began my morning routine. Feed the cats, make the coffee, and fire up the computer so I can read my horoscope, go through my emails, and glance at the headlines in the paper. Only when I fired up the computer, there still was no internet connection. Now I really got pissed!

The problem, you see, was that I had a Zoom scheduled for 8:00 am, and I needed to get online and make sure that I had everything ready for that, not to mention having to send out reminder emails and just oversee what needed to be done. The pressure began to build. But along with it came my super-power – I started to problem-solve and look for alternatives! 

I decided I would take my trusty cell phone, drive into town where I could feed off of some free WiFi at a well-known coffee establishment, make up some funny anecdote about how technology was causing us all to lose our minds, and after having laughed about it, buy my latte and come home.

Can You Hear Me Now?

So, the clock was ticking and I am driving around, only I can’t find parking. And I’m driving around and I don’t have any bars on my phone. And I’m driving around and pushing every damn setting on my phone to grab on to whatever invisible power source is actually transmitting sound and pictures through the ether without any success. And it is getting closer and closer to when I am supposed to be starting my meeting. And, I am not succeeding.

The only thing this strategy accomplished was my using up lots of gas, sucking up all the battery power in my cell phone, and increasing my blood pressure beyond what my primary care physician suggests is a healthy number for someone my age.

The Second Lesson: Know When to Stop Spinning

What was causing me the most agita was the fact that I would not be able to let others know what was going on and I didn’t want them to think I was responsible! Without going into the years of psychotherapy that were needed for me to uncover my unhealthy levels of feeling responsible for everything and everybody, suffice it to say that I was triggered with a very uncomfortable emotional memory that initiated, like those domino spectaculars, an unstoppable cascade of uncomfortable, distressful thoughts, feelings, and actions.

It took me a moment (well, several) to interrupt that pattern, but once I did, I ended up driving home, parking the car, and sending a text (how that worked I’ll never know!) which made it all right. My meeting got rescheduled and nobody was angry with me!

The Unexpected Gift

When I got to my driveway and looked around, I noticed that several of my neighbors were out and about. I joined them, and we had a face-to-face conversation. Remarking on just how unusual that was, we also shared our experiences of the internet being down, talked about the good old days, discussed how we could support one another if something like this ever happened again, and came up with all kinds of theories about what happened.

More importantly, we laughed with one another and provided reassurance that we weren’t alone and that we could reach out to one another. We re-established and deepened bonds that had brought us to our neighborhood in the first place – we are a community!

The Third Lesson:  People Care

We stood around talking about our shared predicament and felt better for having a caring audience. We validated each other’s experience by giggling at our shared decision-tree of assuming the outage was our fault, then pointing the finger, then just accepting what was happening as being out of our hands. We caught up on what we were doing, who was going where and what the latest gossip was.

We had the real-time experience of being together and affirming that we had each other’s’ backs. All of which contradicts what shows up on social media, what fills the headlines on the nightly news, and what comes out of the political pundits’ mouths.  We learned we care.

Epilogue

The explanation for the outage was pretty dramatic. In spite of my very vivid and catastrophic imagination, it turns out, the whole mess was due to some vandal breaking in and cutting fiber optic cable at the internet company. This unplugged 50,000 of us. As of this writing, no suspects have been identified.  Access has been restored to all impacted and we are back up and running! Couldn’t ask for a better outcome!

3 responses to “An Unscheduled Seminar about Community”

  1. Berkeley Fuller-Lewis Avatar
    Berkeley Fuller-Lewis

    Mary, thanks for this “heads up” to us all – about over-reacting, feeling “thwarted” and powerless, and then discovering that a “problem” is neither our own nor that of some imagined villain! And, if WE (comparatively prosperous and secure) feel powerless, invaded and not at all listened to by the giant entities out there, imagine someone feeling SO powerless and unimportant – their only way to “express” such alienation is to sabotage a key service of all us “(so-called) rich people.” To me, “acting out” such hopeless rage IS yet another symptom of current society’s unconscionable wealth imbalance. Anyhow, a great post and glad you met your neighbors, at another level!

  2. Patricia Linderman Avatar

    I enjoyed this thoughtful post, and congratulations for 300 blog posts!!! Wow!!!! Keep up the great work, we need your voice!

  3. Geri Avatar
    Geri

    What a saga for our times! Great—and funny! Happy to hear you are back to cyberspace.

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