Pause for thought

14 sept 599

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.

70 thoughts on “Pause for thought

  1. When Child #4 left for university, I left too. Left the job that ate evenings and weekends, left the big car and bigger house, left the country. And nobody was more surprised than me when I found out that I love living in what one friend calls the land of liquid time. Now all my days are Saturdays and I live in a constant state of amazed wonder at how much fun that is. But I couldn’t love it this much if I hadn’t paid all those decades of dues first.

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    1. I started work when I was 12, every night after school…and had our beloved government not recently added another seven years onto my working lifespan, would now be fast approaching retirement age. The land of liquid time may well sound like a story title… but it also sounds like heaven.

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  2. Well written Sue.I said no to the last work offer 15 months ago. There are still many things I do that I actively lessen my commitment to. Now I practice watching birds, meditating, just sitting and listening to sounds of the neighbourhood, (fairly quiet), listening to an entire CD with the eyes closed and a few other things. Never is it doing nothing but it is something that gives inner peace and I want to do just because I can and time is of no consequence. Those of us reared in the WesternWorld have a lot to throw away as we journey through life. Some of the Eastern ways can provide guidance.

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  3. That time for not doing is one of the most active times…even if to outside eyes it looks like immobility. I was horrified to realise that I’d allowed the daily meditation time to become part of the routine. Not the meditations themselves, but the time set aside for them. It is the wrong frame of mind to be in. ‘Leisurely,’ says my friend…I am adopting that attitude more and more.

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  4. Hi Sue, I think I needed the opposite talk. I was just thinking before I read this that it would take a helluva lot of stupid effort to find a house as unkept as this one. However, I don’t plan on doing anything much about it while the sun is shining, there’s glistening dew on the grass and a puppy who is chewing the dustpan in frustration at not being out to soak in the deliciousness.

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  5. I have recently decided to include myself in the endless list of chores, as it has come to my attention that I may not have as much time left as I thought, and high time to use it better…

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  6. It is difficult to do nothing without feeling guilty (“The devil makes work for idle hands to do”) but I do hope you will take your own advice, Sue. Your body is trying to tell you so. And you know no-one ever said on their death bed “I wish I’d spent more time in the office”!

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  7. This is powerful. It also reminds me of a sermon I heard on Friday night: Try to act mindfully, whether that is an activity or a do-nothing situation.

    (I am violating that right now–eating breakfast while reading blogs!)

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  8. I agree with the point made in the post, Sue, but I’m not very good at following it myself. I find it very hard to relax these days. If I’m not doing always something, I immediately feel guilty. I need to slow down a little more, I think.

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  9. What you are saying is just what we need to nourish our souls. It is so hard to break from what needs to be done. Really hard. Tonight I let the dinner dishes sit in the sink to go outside and read. It was glorious, and just something I don’t do or feel I can do. Well, tonight I did, and will do this again and again. I feel so whole. -Jennie-

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  10. I fell off the treadmill when I got too sick to stay upright. There has never been an option of going back to doing things “the old way.” I have mixed feelings about it. There are positives and negatives to everything and I’m not sure there’s a “right” answer. You do what you can, what you must, and to the degree that it’s possible, what you want. Or at least that’s the way my life has shaken out.

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    1. We still end up having to do the stuff that has to be done… even if it takes a bit longer or waits a while. My probelm is with the pressure we put on ourselves all the time to do it ‘now’.

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  11. I definitely relate to what you say in this post, and applaud it. One time, about 10 years ago, my guy and I moved, which meant I left my job, my kids were away at college, the dog had died, and I was groundless. OMG, I needed to get a job right away, Figure out who I was all over again But a wise friend (retired minister) wrote to me and suggested,, “you don’t have to DO anything. Just BE.” I’ve taken those words to heart for any decision I make now.

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  12. Oh dear this post nearly made me weep. I have so many issues with time. I don`t do it well, never have. With me something else catches my attention and before I know it an hour has passed which makes me run around like I`m on fire. lol i know its part and parcel of being dyspraxic but saying that doesn`t help when I`m trying to fit in writing, cooking, washing, play with Dante and most important spending quality time with Becca. Sometimes i feel like I`m melting. But, tomorrow is another day and I`ll stop moaning. lol

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