The past two weeks have been unusual for me. I went on a weeklong retreat, followed by an unexpected hospital stay. I learned many lessons from these experiences, and I want to share 6 of them with you today. I hope that they’ll help you live a more intentional life (without the need to get away or seek emergency care!😉)
Part 1: The Intensive
I’m in an online program run by my friend and mentor Leo Babauta. (You might know him from his long standing minimalist blog Zen Habits – the first minimalist blog I ever read!) As part of our program, Leo asked us to do a weeklong intensive – no work, no family commitments, no normal life.
As a working mom of three, taking a week off of my life is not easy, although I know it’s not easy for anyone.
I cleared my work schedule, put vacation responders on my email, arranged for others to manage my Facebook groups, and helped my husband set up a schedule to handle the kids solo.
With my life officially on pause, I settled into an Airbnb in nearby Columbus, Ohio, ready for a week of enlightenment.
One of the most impactful exercises of the retreat was a day of silence. Leo asked us to practice silence in all forms, which meant, in addition to no talking:
No Internet browsing
No media consumption of any kind
No writing (except for journaling about the experience)
No signing/trying to communicate with others
The goal was to get your mind as quiet as possible, so that you could listen. Leo said that when we allow ourselves to get this quiet, we find answers.
As a natural introvert, I was excited about this. Not talk to anyone? Sign me up!
Although like so many things in life, this proved more difficult than I’d anticipated.
My first experiment in silence involved a walk to Goodale Park, a local greenspace near my Airbnb. It was sunny and as I strolled slowly toward the pond and fountain at one end, an elderly man on a bench stopped me to strike up conversation.
I immediately thought, “I’m not supposed to talk to you!” But then my Midwestern good manners kicked in and I decided that I would not pursue silence to the extent of rudeness to my elders and hey, Leo said we should listen, so perhaps this man was a messenger from the divine? 🤷♀️
“It’s good that you’re walking,” he said. “You’ve got to exercise, stay strong.” I nodded and smiled.
“I’ve been coming to this park since I was 10 years old. Now I’m 82.” He sighed. “My health is bad.”
I noticed the pack of cigarettes in his front pocket and the cane resting next to him on the bench.
“My daughter and her son come here with me. They like to walk around the pond.” He indicated their circular path with his hand.
He looked up at me and crinkled his eyes.
“You don’t mind a comment, do ya?”
I broke my silence. “Not at all.”
“You’re a beautiful lady.”
Such unexpected kindness. My heart flooded. Tears pricked the corners of my eyes. I smiled. “Well, thank you. You’re a beautiful gentleman.”
We waved goodbye and I continued my walk, aiming toward a bench on the opposite side of the pond from my friend.
Lesson #1: Value your health. You won’t always have it.
Lesson #2: You are beautiful.
As I walked toward my bench I turned these lessons over in my mind. The first seemed a bit obvious. “Value your health” didn’t exactly strike me as enlightenment. Considering what happened later, though, I could not have been more wrong.
On my way to my bench, I spotted a turtle sunning himself on a rock. I crouched down to inspect him. He was so still, black head jutting proudly from his shell on a slim dark neck. I peered closer. No movement, not even his eyes.
“He must be fake,” I thought. An artist’s bronze rendition of a turtle, installed to fool visitors like me.
A bit deflated, I sat down on my bench and continued my silence.
A middle-aged woman and teenage son approached. They too saw the turtle and crouched down, snapping pictures with a phone.
“Ha,” I thought. “They’re fooled, too.”
Just then the turtle gently swiveled his dark head. Two seconds later, he slipped noiselessly into the water.
Huh. Apparently the joke was on me, just not in the way I’d thought.
Lesson #3: It’s easy to pass by real life without noticing or appreciating it, until it’s gone.
The woman and son continued around the pond until they reached the old man’s bench. They sat next to him, opening the phone and showing him the pictures. Surely they were the daughter and grandson he’d talked about.
Ten minutes later they left, the woman and son walking ahead, the old man shuffling slowly behind, leaning on his cane.
I learned many more lessons during my retreat, and I’ll write about them later. But now let’s fast forward a few days to…
Part 2: The Hospital
It’s Monday morning after my weeklong retreat and boy, do I have a week ahead of me! Packed with clients, interviews, and catching up on a week’s worth of email, it could seem overwhelming but I’m fired up from my week of reflection and ready to tackle the world.
Except… My stomach kinda hurts.
I think back to the 10:30pm bowl of ice cream I shared with my husband the night before.
“No more late night ice cream,” I resolve, as I slip on my tennis shoes to walk Rudy before I dive into my day.
The two-mile walk is routine. I try to enjoy the sights and sounds of my neighborhood, but the stitch in my stomach is putting a literal hurtin’ on my efforts to be in the moment. I walk slightly hunched over.
Back home, I force myself to eat breakfast in hopes that will help. (It doesn’t, if anything I feel worse.) But I have a summit interview with Jill and Jen from the Frugal Friends Podcast at 10am and I need to perk up. I shower, put on makeup, and smile my way through the interview.
Leo’s edict to be on full retreat means I haven’t checked my email in seven days. I dread opening the inbox, but darn it, I teach people how to manage email so if I can’t face an overloaded inbox, who can?
An hour later that sucker is down to zero. I feel accomplished. And my stomach still hurts.
I decide that my next best course of action is to eat lunch.
(Anybody else recognizing the theme of “denial” in this post? 🙋♀️)
After forcing down some veggies, hummus, crackers, and cheese (I’m determined to make up for that ice cream!) I feel, again, worse.
I look at the clock, it’s almost 1pm. My work day ends in 90 minutes when I need to leave to pick up my daughter.
I finally do the thing I should have done the moment I woke up, the thing that’s been niggling in the back of my mind all day:
I ask a robot a very important question.
“Alexa, where is your appendix located?”
Her smooth voice answers: “The appendix is located on the lower right side of the abdomen.”
I look down, to the epicenter of the last six hours of pain.
I call Josh. He’s headed into a deposition and doesn’t have much time to talk. He advises me to do whatever I think is best.
My mind goes through the annoying chain of events unspooling before me.
High deductible health care bill.
Mercedes waiting at school.
My boys coming home to an empty house.
A trip to the ER.
Another high deductible health care bill.
And in the end, it’ll probably just be gas.
In which case, even though I am super annoyed by the hijacking of my day’s productivity, I know a ruptured appendix is nothing to mess with. I drive myself to the nearest Urgent Care, where I’m given a no-nonsense order: “Go Directly to the Nearest ER, Do Not Pass Go.”
Josh is unreachable in his deposition, so I call my neighbor Leigh to pick up Mercedes and take care of my boys.
She answers on the first ring and after my quick explanation responds, “Don’t worry, I’m on it.”
Lesson #4: You are supported.
I have my assistant clear my work calendar. I’d laugh if my stomach didn’t hurt so much, because for the second week in a row, this lifelong overachiever has absolutely nothing work-related to do.
Lesson #5: Most of the things you think you “need” to do are actually not that important. Almost everything can be rescheduled or simply not done at all.
Twenty-four hours later, I emerge from the ER, appendix-less.
Josh helps me into the house. Rudy whines from his crate, where he’s been banished for fear of him jumping on me. The kids hug me carefully and then divulge all the appendectomy details they’ve learned in the last 24 hours on YouTube.
Leigh comes by with trays of food, enough for two families. (Refer to Lesson #4.)
My mom is here, having driven down from Toledo. I let her and Josh manage the kids while I sleep on the couch.
Days pass, I get stronger, I’m able to move more easily on my own. By Friday morning – as I type this – I’m able to walk around the block without needing to take a nap afterward. My slow, careful steps remind me of the man I met in Goodale Park.
I can see that in the next few days I’ll be mostly back to normal, although I’m tempted to pretend otherwise so my mom will stay and keep making me tea and oatmeal every morning.
Lesson #6: No matter how old we are, we always want our moms to take care of us.
I’m going to close this post now, even though I could write more, as I’ve certainly learned more than 6 lessons in the past two weeks. But I hope these lessons inspire you to live a more intentional life.
I hope you value your health. You won’t always have it and you have no idea when that will be. (Lesson #1)
I hope you know you are beautiful, no matter your age, gender, or social status. (Lesson #2)
I hope you notice and appreciate real life when you see it. It can slip away very quickly. (Lesson #3)
I hope that you know you are supported by your fellow humans. Sometimes you just need to ask them. (Lesson #4)
I hope you realize that many of the things you “need” to do are not that important. You can reschedule them. You can not do them. Life might actually be calling you to take care of more important matters. (Lesson #5)
And finally, even if you’re an adult with lots of responsibilities, allow people to take care of you. This is a beautiful gift for them and you. (Lesson #6)
In the spirit of these lessons, I’m going to go allow myself some rest. I’m sending you all my love.
And if you have some important life lessons you’ve learned recently, would you share them with me? I’d love for you to email me personally at [email protected] and let me know the lessons that help you live a more intentional life.