No Tolerance for Leisure…Or, My New Year’s Resolution
2018 has begun, and the usual goal setting and resolution making has not yet resolved. I have hesitated this year, because I am trying to pare down the “to do” list in my life – it has been too long for too long. We must be vigilant in deciding when to stop and allowing ourselves to truly recharge, without feeling the pull of the list, or guilt for not getting everything done. There has to be a clear demarcation between work and leisure: a way to put what’s undone in a box for later…or permission to take it off the list entirely. We should all allow ourselves to experience periods of peace and satisfaction, but when the list is too long, it interferes, and we then should make a choice as to what to keep and what to let go.
I have been seeking ONE thing to commit to in this new year, trying on ideas for size. There are so many great ideas, and its easy to fall in love with them all and attempt to incorporate them into an already full schedule. But what I keep coming back to is an intent to continue cultivating a rich life, one with a slightly slower pace. I want to feel that true sense of leisure that we would regularly experience when we were younger and more carefree. Whenever possible, I want to be able to wake up slow, take a long hike, spend a few hours learning some new chords on the guitar. I want more things to be unscheduled and impromptu – like movies or drinks with friends. The workweek is busy, but on the weekends at least, I want to sit around my kitchen table with my favorite people, drinking coffee and playing cards, just visiting. I believe we have to fight harder for it now, given all that we CAN do, and the endless array of choices in front of us. The key is getting and staying very clear about what we want and creating the space to make that happen…which is the point of a New Year’s Resolution after all.
When we were younger, we spent a lot of time with my family on my Dad’s side. We would take those upstate NY backroads to visit our grandparents, who were the center and hub of the family. When I
look back at that time, what strikes me was the ability to enjoy the leisure time we had. On our visits there, we took long walks and swam at Twin Rivers; we could spend entire mornings baking; entire afternoons playing cards and scrabble. In the summer we would spend early July mornings picking strawberries and the afternoons making jam with the rhubarb from the garden. When friends dropped by unannounced, and they always would, someone would automatically throw on a pot of coffee and pull up some extra chairs. The sense of having enough time is its own form of wealth. I want this again in my own life: more time around the kitchen table with a cup of coffee and nowhere to hurry to.
Growing up in our family, our house was always open – we expected and invited people to drop in. I’m not sure if this is still common, but we don’t do this now: drop in and visit, at least where I live, in North County, San Diego. Now, there is a sense that any plans have to be made in advance, and to drop by without “warning” – with at least a phone call in advance seems like a breach of etiquette.
What changed? Why is it different now? For those of us transplants in places far from home, much of our extended family lives elsewhere; they are truly far flung. We don’t have the same depth of familiarity, the long and deep history with a group of people that gained from being entrenched somewhere for a long time and from early on.
In urban areas, there is often a more hectic pace of life, and while this is exciting and stimulating and can make us feel useful, it can prevent that true sense of calm. We have been slowly trading essential pieces of our soul for this other, busier life, which at the end of the day may not provide the feeling of deep satisfaction, nourishment and contentment that we deserve and need.
Technology surfaces as another element: while we can be more connected, we aren’t always connecting, and people slowly become accustomed to this less rich, more distracted experience, the more distracted experience. For some people, this is all they know. Our collective sense of “busyness” is another element. This one is difficult, because choosing to do less or nothing is very hard. It is an antithesis, like swimming upstream against a very strong cultural current. On any given day, there are interesting and cool events pulling at us, work or projects calling to us, and these often seem like they will make our lives richer. Sometimes they do. At work and at home, it is easy to see how to improve; our minds have been trained to analyze the choices and do things differently (better!) next time, no matter what it is we are doing. Measure, improve, measure, improve. But sometimes…we should not measure, and we don’t always have to improve. We can just be.
Our Busy Brains
And then, if we can jump the high hurdles of managing clarity in our relentless ambitious culture, and find the time despite the necessary obligations, our busy brain presents the next and perhaps most difficult gauntlet for us to storm. Even if we are very clear about how to structure our leisure time – what to do and what to let go of; there is this insidious inner commentary that is constantly working to erode any sense of peace we may have finally achieved. We finally sit down on Sunday to spend a few hours reading, crafting or playing but there is that nagging inner voice, preventing us from “dropping in” to our chosen fun. Overcoming this takes practice, which is hard work. So, what is enough? Such a personal decision.
As I sit here writing today, I am experiencing a taste of what I want more of: Coffee on the deck, good music on the stereo, some time to pursue this writing thing I love. Moments of groove. No obligations for the afternoon. And as for New Year’s Resolutions, for me this year there really is only one: To get good at dropping in, letting go and practicing the art of leisure whenever possible.
Whether you are adding on or letting go, what have you resolved for 2018?
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