When a storm took the power out in my neighborhood for ten hours this weekend, I didn’t even have the option of an invigorating zap. Talk about being alone with one’s thoughts. I couldn’t drive anywhere that had power because my garage door opens via electricity, and the double-wide door is too heavy to open manually by myself.
The article, led by Timothy Wilson of the University of Virginia, described the results of eleven studies, which found that when left alone in a room by themselves for six to fifteen minutes, people would rather do mundane tasks than sit and think, and that many preferred to administer electric shocks to themselves given the alternative of being alone with their thoughts.
Sixty-seven percent of men gave themselves at least one shock during the thinking period. On average, study participants zapped themselves 1.47 times in a fifteen-minute interval, not including one “outlier” who administered one hundred ninety shocks to himself. (!)
The authors contend the problem is that thinking is too complicated and our minds are too unruly. Without the training offered by meditation and other techniques, they say that the “untutored mind does not like to be alone with itself.” I think this is true, and it’s something that Elizabeth Gilbert learned in her book, “Eat, Pray, Love.” Since reading her book a few years ago, I’ve been dabbling in some meditation and mind-focusing techniques. But given my peri-menopausal-messed-up-hormonal-state at times, these attempts can be challenging.
But the attempts seemed to have served me well during the power outage. Had I been desperate, I could have biked somewhere, but truth is, I rather enjoyed living without electricity for a while. As if it were all planned, I had plenty of no-cook food available, an 800-page book (“Written in My Own Heart’s Blood” by Diana Gabaldon) and an outdoors painting job to keep me occupied. Sure, I went through Facebook and Email withdrawal, but when the power finally came back on, I found I didn’t miss much.
In fact, unlike the study participants, I wasn’t afraid to sit and think (and better yet, feel!) The lack of distractions helped me piece together an emotional puzzle I’ve been working on for four years. I can’t say that I liked what I discovered, but at least the picture on the puzzle is much clearer.