For a good many years, my days have begun very early and ended very late. For most of that time, I have been working, whether it has been on the nine-to-five treadmill (which very seldom was just nine-to-five), doing housework and gardening, cooking or writing…or the myriad other jobs that come with adulthood, parenthood and the age of responsibility. Weekends and the misnamed ‘holidays’ simply exchanged one task for another, fitting the things I wanted to do in between those I had to. Even meditation periods become part of the routine, slotting in between other necessities. It doesn’t really matter whether you love what you are doing or not…and I do… it is the constant motion of the wheel of doing that gets hold of us. Escaping the hamster wheel is a dream many share, but for most of us, a dream is all it may ever be.
The trouble is that we get caught up by what we do… and the more we do, the more it holds us. We start to believe that if we don’t do it, no-one else will… or that we do it best/quickest/most efficiently. Even worse, for many of us, especially in the domestic arena, that is probably true…simply because we have been doing it for so long that we have grown efficient through long habit. Even when the need is no longer there, we still carry on with the old ways, sticking to the same routines because we do them on autopilot. When something forces us to stop for a while, it feels odd, things nag at us somewhere below the surface and we find it hard to switch off.
There is a constant pressure of routine that creates an unconscious level of chronic stress that has been shown to have adverse effects on health, weight, sleep and emotional wellbeing. It is insidious and we don’t even notice it, so deeply ingrained does it become.
It took me a while after the boys had all left home and I was living alone with the dog, to realise that actually, I wouldn’t be burned at the stake if I didn’t dust and polish every morning. The sky would not fall if I didn’t do the laundry every day and I would neither starve to death nor be ostracised by society if I chose not to cook. In fact, if it wasn’t for the dog, her toys and her fur, I would actually have very little around the house that had to be done every day. Okay, I would keep the place nice for me… and for any unexpected visitors… but it was no longer an imperative.
I let it be and relaxed.
Twiddled my thumbs for a bit.
Then found I had filled all the spare time I had released with other ‘jobs’.
Downsizing was next… one almighty burst of activity and I’d be in a small flat that would take much less upkeep! Except it doesn’t. I’m still only using the same area as before, but the dog, her toys and her coat can access all areas… so the hamster wheel kept turning. Until the first virus hit. For a few days, I couldn’t have cared less where I was. For the next few days, I didn’t care about anything except much and spent the time cuddled on the sofa with the dog. We slept through a number of mindless DVDs and a couple of excellent ones too. I managed to stay awake for much of The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and it was watching that film that woke me up.
Dame Judi Dench plays a woman in her seventies who, although relatively recently widowed, has fallen in love, but is afraid of the new relationship. “I just need more time,” says her character to another woman. “How much time do you have?” she replies. Which got me thinking.
I am nowhere near my seventies… not yet. But how much time do any of us have? It is an unknown factor. We stay in the hamster wheel of duty and necessity, looking towards a ‘one day’ that may never, for a multitude of possible reasons, happen. And for most of us, getting off that wheel entirely, simply through choice, is an impossibility. We seem to be programmed to be doing.
But we can slow it down, making space in each day for doing … nothing. For simply sitting in the sun. Meditating. Watching the stars. It doesn’t matter… it just has to be time. Time to actively, deliberately engage with doing nothing, giving it as much attention as all the rest of the doing and according it the same importance. Time to just be you.
It is not a new concept, but an ancient one. It is a simple thing. An hour a day… half an hour… just time to leave everything, let it wait and just be.
Like all the habitual things we do in a day, doing nothing seems to make space for itself…time you did not think you had…and you come back from it refreshed.
Give it a try.