Well it’s been a long time since I’ve been able to write a blogpost… this year has felt like a galloping, out-of-control beast and I’ve rarely felt like I’m in the saddle let alone holding the reigns! A far cry from the blissful “year for myself” I’d somehow imagined might happen when my youngest went to school. (The phrase “for myself” should probably have aroused immediate suspicion, anyway. Life generally saves us from having that kind of approach; and it definitely has in my case, with my husband having a building accident & head injury at the beginning of January which has left him with longer-than-expected term fatigue issues.)
So, for a number of reasons, I’ve found myself running pretty ragged by October, and this has in turn led me to see a few things more clearly than before.
A couple of friends have recently said, in the flow of conversation, that they thought I was too busy to be interested or involved in whatever we were talking about. It got me thinking. How/why do I give off that impression? In actual fact, because of my husband’s health, this year has actually had to be a lot less ‘busy’ in terms of hospitality, activities and going away than we have ever been. It’s been a year for “pulling in”, for knowing our limitations, and for saying “no” to quite a few things. So why have my friends had this impression? And why have I felt like I’ve been trying to ride a “galloping beast” most of the time?
It seems to me like ‘busy’ can be a state of mind, as much as a state of life. For me, I wonder if the feeling of carrying extra burdens this year, of having less headspace and emotional energy, and of never quite getting on top of household jobs, means that I tend to feel busier than I actually am. It’s more about the internal world than the actual things I need to do. Maybe this feeling of only just managing is what my friends are picking up on.
For our culture I wonder if busyness is actually becoming endemic. It seems like that anyway: so many people describe themselves as “busy” when you ask how they are doing, like they are not quite keeping up with everything they need to do. It’s like there is a plague of stress, and a whole country of people running around madly all the time! In some parts of our society, it is almost becoming like something of a virtue – a badge of honour! Those who are not too busy are obviously not pulling their weight; those who refuse to be workaholics are frowned on, and even openly criticised by those who can’t stand to see them taking time to be with their family, or gardening, or pursuing creative expression.
It’s a hard thing: there are jobs that need doing, there are people whose jobs or life circumstances are genuinely demanding and completely pre-occupying. It’s all very well to say, “We shouldn’t be so busy” when they just know they have to do what they do or there will be dire consequences.
However, I do feel like my eyes are being opened to certain habits in my own life that have definitely increased my feelings of stress and busyness. Recently I’ve decided that unless it’s absolutely needed (eg. finishing preparing a class for the next day, etc), that I will keep my laptop computer in my office, rather than dragging it all over the place, particularly to the loungeroom. I realised that my husband and I were actually working and/or problem solving right up to the moment when we went to bed. Even browsing through google-land or facebook often becomes a form of problem solving, just evaluating information, finding relevant answers to things, or judging what to look at or discard. No wonder people are feeling overwhelmed, if every waking moment requires their brain’s active involvement in intellectual and/or emotional quandaries. I feel like I’m saying to my laptop, and to the whole world of activity it represents: “Back in your box! I’m not going to be ruled by you”.
My husband and I used to take turns in giving each other a regular ‘Sabbath’ – it came around for us once a fortnight, when the other would take our 3 young kids out for about 4 hours, giving the other one blessed headspace and quiet! This habit gave me such strength and hope for the other 13 days of the fortnight, it was like I could handle just about anything, because I knew that rest and reflection and QUIET was coming!! Unfortunately, for a number of reasons, we are not doing this any more; and I am beginning to realise how much of a gift the idea of Sabbath has been for humans. Someone said it’s to remind us that we are not machines; and I think it also reminds us that productivity and hard work needs to be balanced by solitude, silence and also fun and celebration.
So, I’m starting to look at how I can regain “Sabbath” in life: if not a whole chunk of time by itself, at least in definite times and spaces through the week.
The word “No” is very difficult for some people to utter, and I am thankful that this year has helped me again to practise using it, because I’ve just had to. A friend once very helpfully taught me, “You have to choose your failures”. In other words I can’t do everything, and if I don’t say no to some of the lesser balls I’m juggling, I will end up dropping balls that should never have been dropped. Life is such a difficult test of our ability to weigh up, to choose, to refine and to confine ourselves too. In our culture, it’s almost excruciating – because we have so many options, so many good things on offer, so rich a world to freely explore on every level. We don’t want to turn our back on things that could be great, enjoyable or helpful; we don’t to miss out on anything.
I have a friend who provides a great place of peace for me, in terms of her friendship. She lives on a farm, she has small children, she is a ceramic artist. She is not a ‘busy’ person; she relishes a good cup of tea, she delights in her children and their interests, she even speaks quite slowly (and very kindly). A couple of years ago, she asked if I would like to come and learn to throw pots in her studio. What a blessing that has been! When you are trying to make a pot on a wheel, you have to “centre” the clay. The wheel spins, fast, and your hands raise and lower the lump of clay until it is just in the right position. When it is centred, it looks still somehow, in spite of the fact that it is spinning: there are no wobbles or parts out of place. Then you can begin to form the pot.
The thing that makes me laugh is that my pots often tend to reflect my state of mind. Once I went to the studio after lunch, and my friend told me mornings must be the better time for me – because by that time of day I was so tired and distracted that I just couldn’t focus to make a single thing work! But even on some mornings, I don’t centre properly, so my poor pot starts wobbling madly, or else it gets warped by uneven pressure, or it just completely crumples under my hand.
It’s such a great analogy for life!! We need to be centred. We need to have peace, clarity and focus inside in order to be able to know what we are meant to do, and then be able to do it. If we never have time or space to even know our own heart, let alone connect with our Maker, how can we form into the beautiful, useful, fully matured person we were intended to be?
I’m preaching to myself, you know :).