Monday, January 7, 2013
The Special Challenge of the Day Off
The other day I had a whole day off. There was nothing I had to do: I didn’t have to work or socialize or do errands or even talk on the phone. I was going out at six-thirty to a New Year’s Eve event, but that was so late in the day it didn’t count. (In fact it gave me something to look forward to at the end of the day without interrupting the day.)
I’d made a point of keeping the whole day clear because I knew I needed it, for two reasons: One, there were some things I wanted to do in my house and I also wanted to spend more time than usual with my writing. And two, I needed a stretch of time – I could feel this somewhere deep inside my body – where I didn’t have to do anything, time where some part of me that feels crunched and rushed and obligated could stretch out and lollygag and expand.
So I took the day off, and I had high hopes for it. Mostly my hopes were attached to having that open, spacious, there’s-more-than-enough-time-for-everything feeling. (This is what harnessing time is all about for me. It’s about feeling at least as much as doing: I want to feel calm, spacious, peaceful, and present in the moment, and I don’t want to feel anxious, rushed, overwhelmed, and crowded with stuff I have to do and thoughts about stuff I have to do -- no matter how much I do or don’t have to do. And I also want to harness my time to do whatever I need to do. I find that it’s an endlessly fascinating pursuit, because there’s always something that can get in the way of that peaceful spacious feeling, and therefore there are always things to learn.)
When I sat down to plan my day, on this day I had off, I felt my mood starting to slip a little. I started debating: How much time should I put into the writing? How much time should I spend puttering in my house? Would I have enough time to do both as well as time to lollygag around. I also remembered a few little things that I did need to do, on top of focusing on my writing and working in my house – I’ve been wanting to research a natural health issue on the internet for somebody I love, there’s something I need to read for a new coaching client, et cetera. Right away I started losing that feeling of spaciousness that I wanted and that I had imagined having on this day off.
I planned my day the way I always do, and that helped quite a lot. I decided to clean up the house, do yoga, put together a standing desk I’d bought from Office Depot, and do some other puttering as well upstairs in my study (I thought that putting the desk together would be a form of puttering), from ten to one. Then I would eat lunch and write (and maybe research that stuff on the internet) from one to four. I gave myself extra time for everything (so, for instance, instead of giving myself an hour to putter I gave myself two and a half hours), which I thought would increase my sense of spaciousness. And it did increase my sense of spaciousness when I was making the plan.
I ran into trouble when I started trying to put together the desk that I had bought from Office Depot. What I had imagined as a fun, satisfying home project if only I had enough time for it, turned out to be a frustrating, irritating, and futile time-eating pit. (Of course – I should have known that would happen.) I managed to screw on one caster but could have spent infinity turning the screw to attach the second caster without the screw tightening. I decided to bring the desk (it’s actually called a laptop stand – I want to do some of my work standing up because new research shows that the less you sit for long stretches of time the healthier you’re likely to be) back to the store and have them put it together there for a small fee, which I knew they did with furniture. But when I called to ask them what they would charge and how late they were open, the guy said that they only put together chairs at the store and that to put together a desk – even a cheap flimsy little laptop stand like what I had bought – I would have to bring the receipt to the store, arrange to have someone come to my house, and pay to have them assemble the thing at my house. They couldn’t tell me how much it was going to cost until I brought my receipt to the store, but I could tell it wasn’t going to be cheap. By then I felt really annoyed, and I said, “So it’s going to cost more than I paid for the &*(^%ing desk to get it put together,” and the guy at the store told me in a bawling-out tone of voice that there was no need to use bad language. I hung up in a thoroughly foul mood. Then I spent at least an hour looking at standing desks on Amazon – I wanted one that didn’t have to be assembled, and I certainly wasn’t going to give any more money to Office Depot. I finally ordered something, then went back on-line to try to figure out if what I had just ordered was going to be the right height, and then, as if that wasn’t bad enough, I went back on-line again, searched for and eventually ordered a floor mat that makes it easier on your feet and back to work standing up. So much for feeling like there’s enough time for everything, for expanding into emptiness, silence, and spaciousness.
Finally I sat down at my desk and wrote. It felt good to be doing that, and afterwards I made my potluck salad and went to my New Year’s Eve event. I didn’t have very high hopes for it – I went to the same thing last year and it wasn’t much fun. But this year it was fun, even though two people I’d been looking forward to seeing there had called during the day to say they weren’t going to go. I had no expectations at all and perhaps for that reason I was pleasantly surprised. I even ended up having a nice long talk with someone I probably wouldn’t have spoken to much if my two friends had been there.
So what is there to learn from all of this about harnessing time? I suppose it’s that life happens, things get in the way of our best-laid plans, and maybe sometimes that’s not such a bad thing. And even if it is a bad thing, there’s always tomorrow. If we ended up feeling irritated instead of spacious, we can always take another whack at spaciousness -- tomorrow, or next week, or even right now. And there’s always today, as imperfect as it may be. There’s always this moment, and the moment after this one, and all the moments after that. Here at the beginning of this new year, we are rich in moments – to use or not use, to revel in or rush through, to notice or not see at all. It’s up to us to decide how we want to use our time and spend our lives, and if we screw something up, if life comes along and screws it up for us, we can always go back to the standing desk and give it another try.
-- Mary Allen