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.

Out of control

heather 2015 derbyshire, higger tor, beeley circle, edensor, bak 038The clock is ticking… there is far too much to do and never enough time. That’s the way things seem to be these days, with everyone keeping an eye on the clock and a tight rein on deadlines. We all have them, often hidden…whether it is the meal you need to have ready on time, the kids to pick up from school or the dental appointment you have to squeeze in after work. Deadlines come in all shapes and sizes and half the time we don’t even realise they are there. We call it routine and recognise the benefits of having a rhythm to our days that allows us to get through them with some modicum of reliability.

It can be comforting to know what is expected of you at any given moment… it is a safe place to be, in an odd sort of way and our tendency is to fill the time available with what we know needs to be done, balanced with what we actually want to do. Even leisure time is pretty much scheduled… an evening with friends, a couple of hours feet up in front of the TV… these things take on a regularity that lets us know where we are.

The more overt type of deadline can be a spur for many people; that last minute completion fuelled by adrenaline has a familiarity and carries a sense of achievement… as well as relief. We seem to have transferred our skills as hunter-gatherers to our modern way of life… hunting at our work, chasing the prey of success, either personal or corporate, and gathering moments of leisure like ripe fruits to savour.

As we squeeze more and more into our waking hours, the quality of leisure has entered a strange land of extremes where many feel they have to be seen to be enjoying themselves… always ‘doing’… Some take up hobbies they find relaxing, whilst yet others simply switch off and use the white noise of electronic media, to relax. We are, when you think about it, always trying to control how our days unfold.

How many of us simply… stop doing. Just sit, not furiously thinking about the next problem to be solved or task to do… but just sit and let our thoughts meander where they will, our hands unoccupied, without feeling any pressure or guilt at taking time out? Time to not do, just to be?

For all of us such time has real benefits in terms of relaxation and freedom from the stressors of daily life. It is a time when inspiration comes unbidden, a place where realisations can swirl to the forefront of the mind. It is an essential time of inner silence, where that ‘still, small voice’ can whisper to a consciousness ready to listen. Such moments are the times between time, a place where we simply open the doors and leave space for something greater than we to come in.