On my days off, after I get my people off to school and work, I feed the dog, turn on the TV for background noise, and drink coffee alone in my living room. As a married, working mother with a chock-full schedule, this hour or so after everyone leaves and before I start answering messages and cleaning up, is the most solitude I enjoy. I count on it and I look forward to it.
I love to be at home. It is the place where I feel calm even when my life is in constant motion. Everyone should have a place and time where we can reconnect with ourselves, don’t you think? It’s so easy to get caught up in general busyness and checking items off a bottomless to-do list.
The older I get and the harder I try to stretch the hours of my day, the more I realize my need for this calmness. I need silence sometimes. I need to slow down. I need to find a way to keep the chaos of the world at bay, and the only way I’ve found to do that is through actual, forceable physical removal from the things that pull me every which way; forcing myself to ignore my phone and e-mail; forcing myself to ignore the dishes in favour of that coffee.
We live in a 24/7 society, where the world has shrunk and the clock has sped up. We feel guilty if we’re not busy, almost ashamed if our schedule isn’t full every minute of every day. If we aren’t in a constant state of “hurry” and “do,” we might miss out on a good time, a big promotion, an important tryout, or an Instagram-worthy party.
People talk about self-care and make posts on Facebook about the importance of downtime and taking care of yourself, but in truth, we don’t know how to stay still. Even when we’re “relaxing,” we scroll through Facebook, post on LinkedIn, read e-mail on our phone, listen to podcasts about topics that will improve our lives, or fold laundry while we watch the news.
Seldom do people brag about being completely idle. It’s so un-Western; perceived as a personal deficiency that points to lack of ambition and drive. And yet so many of my friends admit to just wanting to put the brakes on life for a spell, unable to really articulate what that means or what it would look like, acutely aware that the feeling goes against what we’ve been led to expect from ourselves and from each other.
And that looks different for everyone, I guess. A great example is the meme I’ve seen floating around Facebook the past few weeks, which says (and I’m paraphrasing): if you sent me a message and you see that I’ve clicked on it but haven’t replied, please don’t take it personally. Sometimes I have to step away from the Internet and ignore everyone, but I will get back to you when I’ve re-engaged with the world. I get that, completely. I’ve done it and will do it again.
We want unoccupied mental space. We want to be able to step away from stimulation and speed and noise and bright light, while being able to transition back into our lives without feeling guilty, after we’ve recharged our batteries.
I recently read a piece about how hard it is for our bodies to adapt to the constant interruptions of the modern world. We live chronically stressed, by things we don’t even realize are stressing us out; constant distractions, all those pings and clicks and alerts and postings, they make us frantic even when claim to ignore them. Inner quiet, what’s that?
Admittedly, I’ll be honest, I’m the worst offender I know. My version of relaxing is too often a version of what I described above, where I’m temporarily ignoring a few tasks and calling it self-care. But slowly and steadily, having seen the effects of my busy life manifest themselves physically over the past few years, I’ve been making an honest effort to shut down.
One of these days, maybe I’ll be able to practice what I preach.