The Voluntary Brownout

Last night we had a “brownout” in my neighborhood.

No, not some Harvard Business review metaphorical jargon “executive brownout” …

A real, live electrical brownout, where the neighbors spilled out into the street to confirm the eerie and unexpected dimming.

All the appliances in our house quit working, leaving only the lightbulbs still functioning at about 33 percent of their normal brightness.

No internet — because the WiFi router switched off.

No cell phone — I was lucky enough to have left it at the office accidentally.

The house was lit in kind of a romantic, low-glow.

And it was very quiet.

The oven and the stove still worked, so I was still able to prepare dinner.

I cooked dinner with no music playing in the background, no cell phone checking, and not much light.

Then, my wife and I lit a few candles and enjoyed a quiet dinner for two.

We were just getting into some satisfying conversation when all of the sudden the power came back, flooding the dining room with light and noise from beeping appliances and rebooting devices.

What a disappointment.

My immediate thought was “that was so nice, what a shame it ended so early.”

My next thought was “We should have a purposeful brownout or blackout once per month.”

And why not?

For literally no cost, why not have a brain-altering departure from the ordinary that will at worst do no harm and at best open up previously un-used channels for conversation, creativity, and awareness?

The ancient Stoics knew this technique well.

Want to appreciate your food? Go without eating for 24 hours.

Enjoy those warm showers every morning? You’ll enjoy them even more if you alternate with a cold one every now and again.

Like your mattress? Sleep on the floor for a night.

And so on…

The “voluntary brownout” operates from the same principle.

You might love your evening routine, but if you’re reading this blog, chances are you could use a little mindful disconnectedness after work and before bed.

The voluntary brownout, or, better yet, blackout complete with candles and flashlights is sure to jolt you awake and put you in a head space where you can’t help but reflect on your day-to-day life.

So, one night this week, I challenge you to “unplug it all” or even turn all your fuse switches to off if you’re comfortable. Get out the flashlights and candles.

And don’t plug it all back in until at least the next morning.

Let me know how it goes…

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