After an extremely busy day, I arrived home to my small (but lovely) one-bedroom apartment. I love the high ceilings, the open floor-plan, the balcony, and the quiet. Really! I love all that and more about my safe place, my sanctuary, my office, my “space.” Coming home to my two delightful cats, my roses, and my things (no matter how scattered about they might be at the time) is always comforting. I’m grateful for what I have—truly grateful.
On this day, however, I walked in the door and within seconds was jumping out of my skin! The chirp of the dying smoke-detector was echoing in the tiled hallway right outside my bedroom door. Even the cats were flinching with every chirp. I felt a little bad that they’d been flinching every twenty seconds for a chunk of the day. Twenty seconds doesn’t sound like a lot of time between chirps because it’s NOT. It’s exactly long enough to lower the shoulders, start thinking about something else, maybe clean out the satchel, then CHIRP.
After just four or five chirps (less than a couple minutes), I was beside myself. All I could focus on was the next chirp. I knew it was coming. I dragged a chair into the hallway thinking I would change the battery (logical, right?), but it was installed way up on the high ceiling that I am so grateful for. I tried to beat it into submission with the end of a broomstick while standing on top of the chair. All my efforts were fruitless. Chirp!
I called the maintenance guy at 9:00pm because I was distraught about the thought that I would get no sleep with that incessant chirp echoing through the apartment all night long. I had a busy schedule for the following day with a very early start and was going to need my sleep. I woke him up when I called, but I still asked him to come fix it because MY sleep was so important. I stayed distraught, because he was feeling ill and would not be climbing out of bed to fix my smoke detector in “the middle of the night.”
I texted my friend about it. I beat the man up in my mind for being so “lazy,” and I continued to obsess about a sleepless night ahead. Chirp! I blamed Mr. Maintenance Man for the relentless chirping. I was unable to work, wash my coffee cup from the morning, or even carry on a conversation that didn’t revolve around my miserable situation.
The next morning I woke up to my alarm. Much to my surprise, the chirping was as consistent as it had been the night before. Much to my surprise, I slept right through it. Upon reflection, I merely had to stop thinking about it, stop obsessing about it, and stop projecting the impact of it on my existence. As soon as it became just something in my peripheral, I could stop focusing on it and with little effort, my attention shifted. I’m not sure what it shifted to, but I slept.
All that fretting and worrying about lost sleep ahead was just wasted energy. I slept well that night and when I got home at 7:00pm the next day, Mr. Maintenance Man responded to my text with a ladder and a smile. I wasn’t even tempted to tip him over when he climbed the rungs towards the distressed detector. On his way up, he told me the story of how he once obliterated a chirping smoke detector in his own apartment with a sling-shot because it wouldn’t shut up—it was easier than getting the ladder out. I somehow felt better about my own personal obsession. While in the grips of my obsession, I was unsuccessful at beating my detector with the broomstick—but I did try (shhh).
Mindfulness is the act of directing the focus of our thoughts. I was totally mindful of the chirping—until I wasn’t.