We got in! I coveted an invitation to Le Diner en Blanc like I do food on my husband’s plate. Every story raced through my mind in glittering detail – secret locations, beautifully decorated tables, fierce attire, new friends and, of course, the ethereal white. What’s more, I was going across the country to attend Seattle’s inaugural event.
I certainly could not have pulled this off myself. The adventure was spearheaded by my cousin who, for the record, is much cooler than I am. (Little ones leave you less cool and more lukewarm. She has none to date). She called at one of those hours when I was prepping to go out and she was just coming in. “Seattle just opened registration” – because cool people keep tabs on stuff like that. “Go to their website and register…now!” It was a long shot. Tales of waitlists with thousands of people were not only true, but apparently common. I humbly took my orders and pulled out my laptop.
A few weeks later, over a Fourth of July vacation in Cape May, my phone rang. Cool cousin again. “I got in! See if you did too,” she screamed over club-thumping music. Groggy, I rubbed my eyes, looked at my phone and there it was – the emailed invitation. At that point, the real work began. We had 3 weeks to collect tables, chairs, décor, food…oh yeah and ourselves clad en blanc. Several Amazon packages later and some choice words mumbled here and there, we were ready. We made it, we were fabulous, and the experience was epic. I can say that with confidence but I was very much in danger of not being able to. Here’s why.
When we arrived, I walked across the bridge and stood for the split second it took to gasp at the beautiful water and sailboats. Then I took a selfie. The first one wasn’t right so I took a few more. I paused in front of the 4-person musical ensemble long enough to Instagram it. No clue what the group was playing. Choosing proper filters takes time and attention. As my cousin put together a truly creative tablescape, we questioned whether we should leave it to the powers that be to post it on Pinterest or whether we should take it upon ourselves to ensure its debut. Better not leave things to chance. I was about to go AWOL for the napkin wave - a long-standing Le Diner en Blanc tradition – trying to get my photographer husband to take pictures of my own table, but I was fortunate. He stopped me, pulled in the reigns with his calming manner, and saved me from myself as usual so I could actually be there.
Of course, I took time to reflect on the experience. Why had I missed so much and more importantly, how could I avoid missing stuff in the future. I talked to my friend Sarah Eisenberg, a clinical psychologist, to see if she could shed some light. According to her, we don’t ever really multi-task – it just sort of looks like we do. Our brains, magnificent as they are, are really just switching between one or more things very quickly. Juggling our attention in this way can cause “cognitive load” – a state in which our brains need to work harder and can get tired <sad face>. The effect is poorer performance.
So if we’re meant to focus, just how are we to do that in our modern world, with all of its distractions? Mindfulness can certainly help. “Being present is simply bringing awareness to stimuli inside and outside. Once you are aware, you can make conscious choices rather than unconscious ones,” says Sarah. Just like waking up at Le Diner en Blanc and course-correcting, we can do the same thing day-to-day when we find ourselves not paying attention to our children or not totally listening to our partners or neglecting a sunset because our pocket computers yelled at us with urgency. We can practice being aware of those moments and make better choices - choices that reflect what’s important to us. And those important moments move from the periphery of our mental landscapes to the center stage where they belong.
While I really wanted to write one of those “I ditched my cell phone for a week and went crazy” kinds of posts, I think that learning to manage our technology rather than trying to escape it will likely be a more effective approach in the long run. This way we can get good at caring for our minds by allowing them to really attend to the brief and beautiful moments that color the story of our lives. Plus, we can still find Uber drivers.
Love in all things,
P.S. I missed a few photo-ops at Le Diner en Blanc and I settled for blurry and imperfect pictures to mirror my blurry and imperfect life, but I did get one that’s worth mentioning. These are friends we made that evening because we took some time to #beherenow.