Our days are full.
For most of us, from the moment we wake up in the morning, our days are ripe with noise and busyness and rushing. At the end of the day, we are tired. We are so very tired.
Can you relate to any of these feelings?
"I'm tired of trying to keep it all together. My team needs me. My spouse needs me. My kids need me. I feel like I am already living with a wall of regret."
"I'm exhausted. I'm on 24/7. I feel like I can't turn off because if I do my career will slow down and my boss will think I'm a lazy sloth and I will miss my dentist appointment and I'll never get my side hustle off the ground and I won't know about my friend's new puppy and..."
"I come home from work feeling numb. The only thing I have energy for is scrolling and Netflix. And more Netflix. And more Instagram. And more Facebook. At the same time. I've been on social long enough to know it's a waste of time but I. CAN. NOT. STOP. I don't know what else to do."
It takes a powerful no to say a powerful yes.
A couple of years ago, I decided to step away from this kind of bombardment to discover what life might be like without the windows of my day crowded by news and punditry, busyness and chatter.
I gave up the Internet for 31 days.
It was a time of slowing, quieting and coming close to family and my immediate community in our west end neighbourhood of Toronto.
Unplugging was like someone taking an eraser to the chalkboard of my mind and wiping it entirely clean.
I could hear. I was still. I spent my time and attention with intention.
All of us can sense that there's something wrong with our relationship with time.
“For most of us, we’re rarely aware of what we are doing. Our attention is constantly diverted. Being mindful is difficult because we are always anxious about time. We never have enough of it," writes Cecile Andrews in the wonderful compilation, Simpler Living, Compassionate Life.
Another woman and her family decided to challenge their relationship with time. Suzanne Crocker, a retired physician, and her husband moved themselves and their three children, ages 10, 8 and 4, to a remote part of the Yukon where they lived for most of a year. They lived for those nine months with no electricity and without any means of keeping time. No clocks. No power. No “You’ve got 5 more minutes.” No more “Hurry, we’re late.”
What they found is that in the absence of time-saving technologies like cars, smartphones and washing machines, time expanded. They had more of it.
We are living in a culture that can't turn off.
We complain about having no time, all of the time, and yet we impulsively spend what free moments we have submerged in the never-ending drama of email inboxes, social media feeds and television that often leave us feeling more exhausted than if we’d not bothered with them in the first place.
During my digital detox, when I was no longer compulsively reaching for my smartphone throughout the day, I made two important discoveries:
First, that the world keeps turning without me. The web keeps clicking along without my words, without my likes and dislikes. It made me feel small. It reminded me I am small. I'm not the centre of the universe. The world, it keeps on turning.
Second, I discovered that I wear my busyness as a badge of honour.
I’m a mother of three young children. I have an executive husband who travels often for work. I have no family living nearby to help out. I have a lot of good reasons to say “I’m so busy.”
I HAVE A LOT OF GOOD REASONS TO SAY "I'M SO BUSY." BUT WHAT MARGIN I HAVE, I FILL.
But the truth is, there are windows in my day for slowing down, for doing the things I want to do, connecting with the people I want to connect with. But what margin I may have, I fill.
I could sit for 10 minutes and read a novel while my kid runs around in the park, but instead, I check email.
I could drive a reasonable, relaxed pace home, but instead, I operate like a race car driver to get on to the next thing.
What Suzanne Crocker and her family’s example teaches us is that in order to find time we must stop valorizing our ability to keep a more and more frenetic pace.
“As parents, we’re the architects of our family’s daily lives,” write Kim John Payne and Lisa M. Ross in their book, Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids.
“We build a structure for those we love by what we choose to do together, and how we do it. We determined the rhythms of our days; set a pace. There are certainly limits to our control… Ask any parent of a teenager. And it often feels that our lives are controlling us, caught as we are in a mad rush from one responsibility to another. Yet the unique way that we perform this dance of daily activities says a lot about who we are as a family.”
Filmed over 9 months, off the grid, without external crew, and featuring the unique perspectives of children, Crocker’s documentary, All The Time In The World explores the theme of disconnecting from our hectic and technology-laden lives in order to reconnect with each other, ourselves and our natural environment – parents connecting with children, children connecting with nature.
Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder, writes: “Given a chance, a child will bring the confusion of the world to the woods, wash it in the creek, turn it over to see what lives on the unseen side of that confusion.”
The benefits of moon-bathing, forest walks, and earthing (making a small nature connection in the midst of a city) are manifold. The need for these kinds of connections to nature have never been so lacking and never been more needed. We are out of step with the seasons, with our circadian rhythms, with our hearts. We can not live or love well in rushing.
It may not surprise you that city dwellers have a higher risk for depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses than people living outside urban centres. The truth is, we are on a treadmill of our own choosing. We rush from one task to the next, filling what free moments we do have with quick online check-ins and extra tasks.
Rushing. Rushing. Rushing. Doing. Doing. Doing. Producing. Producing. Producing. Consuming. Consuming. Consuming.
We can step off.
Recently, I've been challenging myself to do one less thing. One less errand. One less email. One less task. Some days I take extra time to be present to my kids at school drop off: kissing their messy heads before they disappear behind the double doors and lingering to catch up with another parent. I’ve begun the practice of arriving earlier for meetings, sitting for 10 minutes to give myself space to pause and prepare. I’m aiming to leave the dishes in the sink more often to pick up a library book and read.
It’s powerful to focus on one small thing. It can change us.
Where do you see margin? Is it in your early hours, lingering in bed? Is it over your lunch hour? Is it in the early evening, when you could leave something undone? Hold that space sacred.
We are the architects of our daily lives. By reexamining our relationship with time, we may discover we have more than we think.