There are some interesting things happening in my brain.
For the last few years, as the responsibilities of full time motherhood diminished, I have been working on cultivating a particular state of mind. It has to do with embracing down time.
When the house was full of 4 or 5 growing people I was in the habit of crazed busyness – make lists, make calls, rush around the house, rush to the car, tend to everybody and everything, volunteer, join groups, get involved. When kids grew up and life began to slow down it was hard at first. I felt the familiar tightening in my stomach, bracing myself for the onslaught of chaotic juggling, even when there really wasn’t that much that had to be done in any pressing sense. It was hard to relax.
Knowing that I didn’t want to do many of those crazy activities was one thing. Convincing myself that it was okay to not do everything was something else. I realized, though, that I really wasn’t that happy in many of the commitments I had taken on, so I started winnowing down. I gradually dropped those activities that were less fulfilling, and put more time into the things that were. And when there was free time, I tried to learn to allow it to remain free. I left time for spontaneity - going for a walk, taking a phone call from a chatty relative, reading a book now and then, asking a friend over for tea, puttering around the house.
What I was trying to cultivate was the art of simply living. I’m not talking TV or video games – those just take you out of yourself, out of living, to very little purpose but consumption of time. I mean being in the present moment, noticing where you are in the scheme of life, knowing your own mind and body and making the best of those. So much of life is frittered away in a kind of frantic race for the finish. We’re hurrying so fast that we forget to even notice where we are.
So – maybe that’s just my long-winded justification for idleness. But I don’t really think so. I know the pitfalls of idleness too. When I was home with our first baby, newly moved to a new town in a new state with no other job, there was way too much down time. I became addicted to soap operas, ate too much, and was generally frantic in a completely different way – frantic with boredom.
A little bit of boredom is not a bad thing – it breeds the kind of discontent that generates initiative. If you never allow your mind to idle without stimulation, you may never be pushed to act. If every idle moment is filled by a cell phone or a computer or a TV show, we lose the creativity that bursts forth after periods of idleness and boredom.
The relative quiet of the last few years have seen an evolution. First I relished it; I was ready for a break. Then I was in flux - one day feeling fretful and aimless, another feeling fully content with the quieter life. The initiation of all these new writing projects – blog, online news, biography - is the product of a few years of casting about, looking for direction.
Now I am working on balance once again. It is exciting and gratifying to be busy again, creating things, faced with deadlines and challenges. On the other hand, that old clenching feeling in my stomach is back, and sometimes it’s hard to sleep. I’ll have to re-learn how to cope with new patterns of activity, and keep re-visiting the core of me to make sure I’m getting busy for the right reasons. And I have to make sure to allow room for boredom once in a while – the grist for change and innovation.