My son, our three cats, and I have been on summer vacation for a week. I find myself thinking a lot about being productive and repeatedly giving myself permission to rest. Usually people talk about a work/life balance but I can turn anything into work—parenting, working for money, house work, working towards goals, learning new things, self improvement, any thing—so where can my life achieve balance if my life is a series of working on things?
For me, the issue is one of balancing productivity and rest. I did a Shambhala meditation training a few weekends ago. My concern going into the weekend was that I would be in a major mind battle, dodging thoughts and falling out of the present moment with every breath. Instead, I wanted to sleep. Sitting still for that long gave my body the message that it was time to rest. I understood its confusion. I usually don’t lie down until 11 o’clock at night and even then I am reading until I turn off the light. My body didn’t know what to do with the lack of motion.
Though we’ve gone to birthday and dinner parties, been swimming in a saltwater pool, and played countless board games with my nephews, we have slowed down. So we’ve done a lot in the sense that we’re playing and seeing friends and baking. But it feels restful, not productive. When I get the urge to work on something, I’ve parked myself somewhere to page through the magazines I brought from a pile I hadn’t had time to peruse back home. I’ve gone to sleep almost an hour earlier than usual and slept for an average of nine hours a night.
I even began the trip with a totally revolutionary move—I left a day later than scheduled. The day before we were supposed to leave, the trip preparations, the packing, getting the house together, setting stuff up to be taken care of while we were gone all took longer than I thought it would. When I got in bed for the night, I didn’t feel at all ready to go. I was exhausted and couldn’t fall asleep as I spun everything I still had to get done before our departure.
The packing was mostly finished and the laundry done but the bed wasn’t made, I hadn’t given food away that would go bad in our absence, and I still had five or so items on my to do list. When we woke up the next morning, it was raining. I didn’t want to load the car in the rain. I hadn’t gotten gas. I didn’t have books to read while we were gone. I talked to a friend on the phone and realized that though I’d given myself permission to return earlier or later than scheduled, it had never occurred to me that we could delay our departure. That mad scramble of the last day before a trip with loose ends swinging like jungle vines didn’t have to be the end. We didn’t have anything scheduled upon our arrival, no events to attend or date-specific plans. We were driving, not catching a plane. Why couldn’t I just give myself a little more time?
Deciding to leave on Monday instead of Sunday was the perfect way to start our vacation. We got to have a playdate with buddies my son desperately wanted to see before we left, but who had been out of town the week before. We went to the library. That night a friend I’d been trying to get together with all week came over and chatted with me while I cleaned out the refrigerator and gathered recycling and trash.
I wasn’t running around frantically so that I could go on vacation and slow down. It was exactly the room that slow family living reminds me to take. How much needs to fit in? How much do we need to rush around? Ironically, in our hotel the next night, as I wound down before sleep, I followed a link from a friend’s FB page to an article entitled “The Busy Trap.”
What resonated most loudly was Tim Kreider’s statement, “I did make a conscious decision, a long time ago, to choose time over money, since I’ve always understood that the best investment of my limited time on earth was to spend it with people I love.” There I was, in a hotel room with my son and our three cats, embarking a day later than planned for our escape from Texas heat, our visit to monsoons and family, the time we’d taken to enjoy my son’s last summer before kindergarten, before our lives change and we’re waking to an alarm clock set for a ridiculously early time at least five days a week.
I live out of balance frequently and am really trying to practice this resting business. I ‘ve started to ask myself some questions when I have all sorts of things to do and start to feel busy.
- What do I actually want to do versus what do I think I should do?
- What do I have the energy for?
- If I spend my time doing this, am I going to have anything left when my son wants to play or when he does something that pushes my buttons?
Our taking the time for this trip when I could have been working, when there are house projects to be done and countless productive things that could only be accomplished back in Austin is a testament to my learning how to rest. I don’t want my body to think that sitting still is an invitation simply to sleep. I don’t want to be too exhausted to rest in my waking hours. Because the truth is that no matter how many things I’ve got on my to-do list, I do have, as Tim Kreider reminded me, a limited time on earth. I can’t make a day longer than 24 hours, but I can fill it with a productive rush. Or I can take time to look at the temperature on the bank’s display and feel utter gratitude to be in the mountains. I can smell rain, or teach my son how to play frisbee. I can agree to take three cats on a 14 hour road trip.
Maybe we define rest differently. However you find it, I recommend taking the time to not be productive, and instead just be.