“Why don’t you just sit on the front verandah and watch the evening fall?” I suggested gently, fighting the urge to launch into a “kids today can’t amuse themselves for one second” lecture. Her face fell; watching the world darken is hardly the stuff 10 year old dreams are made of, but off she went. She was out there, barely visible against the darkening sky, until I called her in for dinner.
“The end of the day is a very thoughtful time,” she observed.
I’ve realised lately how productive I am making my kids. How productive I am making myself. It’s been a long time since I’ve sat on my front verandah, watching the day surrender. Twilight has always been my favourite time of day; my memory is filled with golden-hued scenes, glistening in their richness. These days I often don’t even notice it’s dark outside.
I realise that, just like my kids, I’m caught in an endless cycle of doing. I feel restless if I’m not engaged in something that feels productive – whether that’s a work task or a parenting moment, or simply learning something new. For a long time I was at a point where I couldn’t even settle into a novel because it wasn’t doing enough. Reading novels felt like wasted time, when there was so much that was ‘real’ to read and learn elsewhere.
Novels exist in the being, not the doing. From time to time I forget how truly important they are.
Doing is noisy. It echoes in my brains like a relentless drum, impossible to still. A boom, boom, boom for my doing, doing doing. I can’t switch it off to sleep, often I can barely hear other people over its repetitive noise and sometimes I can’t even quieten it to hear my own thoughts. My need to keep busy, to do things well, to seek and then strive, is making my head hurt and my body stressed. Even when I allow myself ‘down time’ I am doing something: trying to practise mindfulness, learning a hobby, reading up on something I’m interested in, making lists for what happens next.
I was at a major shopping centre recently, stuck behind a family that appeared to have all the time in the world to amble around the mall with the snails. “Hurry uuuuuup, some of us have things to dooooo” I was thinking, edging this way and that to try and get around them. The minute I squeezed past them, all bustle and busyness, was the minute a single, crystal-clear note cut through my booming drum: “It’s me with the problem, not them.”
I panicked a little when I realised how caught up in doing I really am. I have always considered myself to be a seeker, not a striver, but constant curiosity is its own kind of doing and my brain needs a break so badly. I scoured the web to find ways to stop the doing and start simply being again and here are the three things I’m undoing immediately:
- Take time to listen myself: Whenever I’ve tried to practise mindfulness, I’ve never quite made it. It has always felt like a chore – not the mind-wandering part, just the focusing on my (boring) breath and bringing-the-thoughts back to X part. I’ve realised that focusing my mind is just never going to happen for me. So I will simply try allowing my thoughts to go where they please, but really noticing them. Taking the time to listen to myself. I will do this over my morning cup of tea, enjoying it on my beloved front verandah instead of at my desk.
- Make yoga a daily habit: I often forget to make yoga (which I have loved for years) a daily habit. My ‘all or nothing’ tendencies come crying out, insisting that five minutes of anything won’t do any good. Well, it will do a lot of good. I’m going to learn this sequence and practise it every single day (though at bedtime, not in the morning… will that be a bad thing, yogis?)
- Cut down on screens: This. If I do nothing else, I need to do this. I spend all day on my computer, beavering away for work. Once the work day is done, I’m off for a few hours, but then I will often get back on in the evening – to work some more (often into the wee hours right before I got to bed) or to read (internet, magazines, books – they are all there, aren’t they?) or play (hello Facebook). Sometimes I double-screen, working on social media while I watch a TV show. I need to practise what I preach for my kids – screen freedom. A little bit of screen time, but not the whole time and definitely not in the couple of hours before bed.
My three pledges for being more and doing less. My three tickets out of the endless doing cycle. With a little bit of luck, these three new habits might help me break my bad habit of productivity. I’ve said it many times and need to remind myself now: what are we busy about?
Do you remember how to just be?