Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Another Special Challenge of the Day Off
Last Sunday I had another chance to take a crack at the special challenge of the day off. (See The Special Challenge of the Day Off for the last time I grappled with this.)
As I’ve said before, I crave chunks of time when I don’t have to do anything, and last Sunday I had an entire day like that. I didn’t have to teach or coach; I didn’t even have any social engagements. All week long I looked forward to all that open time on Sunday. And all week long, whenever I thought of something I needed to do that I didn’t have time for, I said to myself, I can do that on Sunday.
On Sunday morning I wrote down all the things I’d been looking forward to having enough time to do on that day, and then some, in the notebook I use for planning my days. My list was long and varied, with everything from “work with Twitter” (I have an account but haven’t done enough with it to get any mileage from it), to “shop for purse” (I really, really need a new one, not really because I want one but because I’m worried people will think less of me when they see my current old battered black-leather one), to “do some soul searching about X,” to “work in the yard.” I’d felt like I desperately wanted to do all those things when I didn’t have enough time for them during the week (well, maybe not desperately, but at least fairly strongly), but now that I did have time for them they didn’t appeal to me at all. Still, I couldn’t let go of the idea that I should do at least a fair number of those things.
Once I’d made my list, I started to feel busy instead of relaxed and spacious. I suddenly felt like I had too much to do and not enough time to do it, instead of like I had all the time in the world and I could do whatever I wanted to with it. I knew I had a choice here -- that I could choose the latter rather than the former and that if I did my whole day would end up better – but somehow I couldn’t seem to make the right choice and get to that spacious place. I couldn’t figure out when I wanted to do what, either. I was tired too, but I didn’t want to waste the day lying around resting, partly because it was a beautiful day in May – sort of. The weather kept changing its mind: First it would be warm and sunny, with a glorious blue sky; then the sun would go behind a cloud and the atmosphere would start to feel gloomy and oppressive; then it would get nice again. I kept changing my mind about what I wanted to do according to what the weather was doing and how energetic I felt at any given moment (somehow when the sun went in I seemed to have less energy than when it was out.) I got more and more confused about what to do and my mood rapidly deteriorated, despite the fact that I kept thinking I should be able to have a great day. In fact, that thought – that I should be able to use my harnessing time tools to rescue the day and feel better – just made me feel even worse. And the fact that I’ve been going around telling everyone that I’ve developed tools to harness time – to stop feeling like I don’t have enough time and start feeling like I do have enough, and since one of those tools is planning my day by figuring out what I’m going to do when and then spending the day happily, peacefully, et cetera – didn’t help any either.
I never did manage to settle down and enjoy my day on Sunday. The best I could do was stumble through the day and tell myself I’d have a better day tomorrow. I did manage to buy a new purse, and although I felt like I wasn’t very productive, when I looked at the list I had made on Sunday morning I was able to cross off a number of other things on there too. But I never managed to enjoy the moments of the day, never got – or had, or created -- the open spacious relaxed feeling I wanted and had anticipated. In fact, if anything I enjoyed the day less than I do those days when I have lots of things I have to do. I did finally manage to get peaceful on Sunday evening when the day with its opportunities to be productive was over and I could settle down and peacefully watch an old episode of Parenthood that I got from Netflix. When I had no more expectations of doing anything that was in any way… better.
So there it is, I guess: It’s all about expectations. I’ve always struggled with expectations: Holidays, birthdays (my own, of course), Friday and Saturday nights (i.e., date night), even beautiful days have all been minefields of disappointment and misery at various times, because of what I think I should be doing, should be feeling, should have that I don’t have, should … you name it. And when I look forward to those whole days off, when I imagine everything I’m going to do and how gloriously free, open, spacious I’m going to feel, that creates the conditions for expectations, and once there are expectations there’s bound to be, if not disappointment, at the very least pressure. Pressure as in shoulds. This should be better than it is, I should be doing more than I’m doing, I should be feeling better than I am. Which creates the conditions for rushing and hurrying – for straining, trying, efforting, to use a newly coined word I heard recently, which seems incredibly apt in this case. And efforting, as we all know, makes it practically impossible to relax, expand into the moment, and enjoy whatever there is.
I’ve never been able to figure out what to do about expectations. I can’t make myself let go of expectations because I can’t make myself let go of anything: The very idea is a contradiction in terms.
But I can keep creating those days off – those whole day-long open spaces -- and experimenting with them. Noticing what works and what doesn’t work. And maybe some day I’ll get it right – I’ll be able to settle into my time off with an expansive, restful, peaceful feeling -- if not for a whole day, then maybe for an hour or two or even just twenty minutes. I’m sure it will be well worth it.
-- Mary Allen