I find myself in an interesting (and unusual for me) predicament these days. I am not 'very busy'. Typically when someone asks me how I am, I respond with something like, 'Well, I have been really busy with xyz' (fill in the blank). However, with the sale of my business fully complete, and the fall retreat season over and now that we are experiencing the 'dead of winter' here in VT, I am just not as busy as I usually am. In some ways this feels nice, and in other ways it feels uncomfortable and strange. I have found myself feeling a little restless and even (dare I say it) bored. In a culture that rewards us for over-achieving and having every moment of our time scheduled, well, it's just not umm, SEXY, to be relaxed and spacious. Surgeon General's Warning: Blank space on our ICals has been known to cause panic, as well as other serious side effects such as feelings of inadequacy, guilt or shame.
I know that in due time, I will be busy again, but in the meantime, I have been contemplating what it's like to feel spacious and how uncomfortable it can feel when we are faced with unstructured or 'free' time. I have a tendency to feel guilty if I am not doing something most moments of the day, working on a big project or retreat or gazing off along the horizon at some epic upcoming adventure or plan. Which leads me to my next question...since when did we become so addicted to being busy and when did we become human doings, rather than human beings?
As a child (even back in the 70's) I remember strongly resisting many of the planned activities and social obligations we as children were told we 'had' to attend because I just wanted to 'stay at home'. Looking back at my childhood, my fondest memories were not the dinner parties, ballet classes or sports events, but our family trips to Cape Cod or Maine where we would spend a long, slow week doing, well, not much of anything. In truth, we were doing things, but these things were idle and blessed and revolved around the rhythms of nature- getting up for an early swim in the pond, lazily looking for frogs in the afternoon, or cooking s'mores over a campfire at sunset. I absolutely loved landing in one spot for an entire week or two with loads of unstructured time. To this day I am grateful to my parents for this gift they offered us. I'm still joyously fulfilled plunking myself down on one strip of beach or a remote mountain cabin for a week with not much to DO.
However, these days, even when I 'try' to take a vacation, I somehow find that my computer comes with me and it's very hard to resist the compulsion to keep checking messages, texts, calls and emails, even for a few hours! Again, how did we get this way??!! Even as I write this blog, I had to turn off my phone, set a boundary on my time and really focus in, so as not to be distracted by the many other things that call out to me. Last weekend, I attended a women's retreat in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom. In a maverick decision, I chose not to bring my computer and as luck would have it, there was no cell reception where we were. I found myself opening up to nature in a much more present and less distracted kind of a way. I reveled in the subtle beauty of the Vermont winter landscape in a way that I might not have, had my devices been working. I sat and drank tea (not in front of a computer screen) while watching tiny snowflakes fall and took a long walk (without my phone) and stood in awe at the way the wind had played with the snow in an open meadow creating the most gorgeous undulating curves. In short, rather than technology having my full attention, mother nature did.
Another by-product of being 'too busy' is that we rarely have time for each other. To really sit with an 'other', look into their eyes, be present and ask, 'How is your heart'? Not just, 'How are you?', but how is your heart, your soul, how are you feeling and what is most alive in you today? When we do carve out this time for one another, we might feel guilty or like we really should 'get going' or we really should 'be working' or we really should 'get a life'...and the list goes on! Maybe what we really should be doing is just being here- with our loved ones, with the land, with our hearts in all of their passing states of being. It is a rare gift these days to be truly and utterly present with ourselves or another being. It is truly a gift to allow ourselves to be human beings and to let some of the compulsion for doing take a back seat. In this new year, I dare you to give it a try and please let me know how it goes; I would love to hear your own stories of just BEING.
Asana Suggestions: Deep hip openers often have the effect of bringing us right into our bodies and the present moment, as well as meditation and pranayama. Heart-opening poses help to get us in touch with what the heart is feeling, needing or wanting in the moment.
Contemplations & Suggestions to Deepen Your Practice:
* When was the last time you felt idle or bored? If it was back in 4th grade, that might be something to look at! What are your personal thought or judgements about being idle or bored?
* When you have free or unstructured time on your hands, do you react by: A) Immediately looking for ways to fill in that gap B) Feeling so excited that you have free time and relish that fact that you can do nothing for a little while C) You fill in the blank here!
* Stop whatever you are doing and ask yourself, 'How is my heart doing today?' What do I feel or need in this moment? 'What is most alive in me and my life?'
* This week, take the time to ask a loved one, friend or even stranger, 'How is your heart these days?'
* Take a technology break: We put these limits on our children and maybe we need to put them on ourselves too. For an hour a day or a day each week or a week each year, totally unplug. Leave all the devices aside (or at least turn them off), light a candle, and mark that time as sacred. What wonderful things could you do or how would you just be, with the time you are not on technology?
When the rhythm of the heart becomes hectic,
Time takes on the strain until it breaks;
Then all the unattended stress falls in
On the mind like an endless, increasing weight,
The light in the mind becomes dim.
Things you could take in your stride before
Now become laborsome events of will.
Weariness invades your spirit.
Gravity begins falling inside you,
Dragging down every bone.
The tide you never valued has gone out.
And you are marooned on unsure ground.
Something within you has closed down;
And you cannot push yourself back to life.
You have been forced to enter empty time.
The desire that drove you has relinquished.
There is nothing else to do now but rest
And patiently learn to receive the self
You have forsaken for the race of days.
At first your thinking will darken
And sadness take over like listless weather.
The flow of unwept tears will frighten you.
You have traveled too fast over false ground;
Now your soul has come to take you back.
Take refuge in your senses, open up
To all the small miracles you rushed through.
Become inclined to watch the way of rain
When it falls slow and free.
Imitate the habit of twilight,
Taking time to open the well of color
That fostered the brightness of day.
Draw alongside the silence of stone
Until its calmness can claim you.
Be excessively gentle with yourself.
Stay clear of those vexed in spirit.
Learn to linger around someone of ease
Who feels they have all the time in the world.
Gradually, you will return to yourself,
Having learned a new respect for your heart
And the joy that dwells far within slow time.
--John O'Donohue, from "Blessings"
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