Why is it that it takes a period of time away from distractions and interferences before we can really settle into ourselves?
I am writing this piece from a cabin in Kent. It’s tucked away next to a lake (where I have swum both mornings). Yesterday I started with a dip and then felt motivated and certain as to where I was going to focus my energies. I wrote for about 60-90 minutes and then I got antsy. I procrastinated, found other things to make myself feel busy and productive but that itchiness was still there. So I went for a walk. I thought I’d make my way to the village through the woods. But I got lost. All I wanted to do was to stretch my legs for goodness sake, just shake myself out a bit. But I got scared. I am frightened of dogs, and I have seen people walking their dogs in the woods. I worried myself into fear of an attack by a rogue Rottweiler (I’ve not seen any of those here!), and then suddenly, bounding out of the trees ran a deer; right next to me. I stopped and watched her sproink (a world I’m grateful my ex-husband brought into my life for what better description of a leaping, bounding, moving at speed ovine is there?).
Heading back to the cabin, feeling slightly less freaked out, I decided to take a different path and was rewarded by sunshine (I’d been shrouded in deep mist until then) and rows upon rows of vines. Stunning. On reaching the cabin, I realised I was still feeling fidgety. I couldn’t shake the distracted feeling I had in my bones. So, I drove out, intending to get to that village. I drove, I went there, I went somewhere else, and somewhere else. And then I had an epiphany. The reason I couldn’t focus, is that I wasn’t sure what to focus up, and yet was filling myself with the need to do so. The reason to take myself away for a couple of days off grid was to focus, and I was judging myself by my inability to do just that.
I came back, wrote a bit of a strategy, figured out where my priorities were and then gave up and watched a movie (A Hologram for the King – a Tom Hanks I’d not seen before where it occurred to me that his roles are never ‘sexy’ or ‘lustful’ where he is involved in a romantic story, but always romantic and gentle. I wonder if that’s a conscious choice he’s made…), and went to bed.
This morning I woke to a deep mist again. It had been frosty overnight. I had slept well and I did not reach for my phone when I woke up (no point, no signal, no wifi). I dipped in the lake again. It was freezing. By the time I was in above my knees, below my knees was almost painful with the cold (I am someone who dips throughout the year, and I know not to stay in longer than is safe for me – don’t pick February to start if you’re new to it, and don’t do it alone!). I felt bold and I was listening to what I needed. A very quick dip and out, one last in and then straight to the shower. I made breakfast and listened to what my body wanted (smoked salmon, scrambled eggs and guac thank you body). I sat down to eat. I drank coffee. I knew what I wanted to do.
I had an epiphany this morning. Something that has unlocked a ‘stuckness’ that I’ve had since May. I was struck by inspiration, and the knowledge that I didn’t need to cling to the work that I’d done on this before, that I could start again. I worked until I wanted to stop, and then realised I wanted to write. I thought these few days was going to be, in part, about writing, and I’d just not felt it. And now, yes.
I think I spent yesterday detoxing from being ‘with’ or ‘around’ or ‘central’. I’m reading Four Thousand Weeks: Time management for mortals by Oliver Burkeman at the moment. I’m thinking about how we can’t do it all (which I already fully appreciate and talk about), and we have to make choices (again, I appreciate that), but what I’m learning is that it’s okay to stop. To do nothing. To not have to fill time with all that we need to get done. Doing nothing, in it’s truest sense, is a legitimate choice. I love the exercise he describes in his book about how Art History Lecturer Jennifer Roberts (Harvard University) sets her students a three hour test. They must chose a piece of art (a painting or sculpture) in a local museum and sit there for three hours looking at it. No phones, no pen and paper, no conversation (toilet breaks are reluctantly permitted). It is in this time that the painting reveals itself to them. Unlocking secrets that never would have been uncovered in the 20 seconds we allow ourselves to spend in front of a piece of art normally.
My learning is that next time I book some time away to write or think, I’m going to fully spend one day allowing myself to freak out and know that I need this time to release my expectations of myself. I also notice that I don’t miss the phone (I admit I’m using it for a bit of background music and taking the odd photo, but I could easily have just brought with me a CD player and a camera). I am going to build in digital downtime into my life in a way I’ve toyed with but never really accomplished. I’ll keep you posted.
So why am I sharing this with you? Three things really.
- Go read Oliver Burkeman’s book – Four Thousand Weeks: Time management for mortals. See what discomfort it unlocks for you. Notice what lessons really hit you hard.
- Go beyond giving yourself permission to do nothing, and actually force yourself – nothing in it’s truest sense. Sit. Think. Daydream. Look around you.
- Try switching off your phone for a weekend (I admit that I found I could rest easier with this having been able to share my property owner’s phone number with my ex- in case of child emergency)