Lessons On Slowing Down

It’s a Saturday morning and I have a to-do list as long as my arm, so long in fact that I’ve had to write it all down to reassure myself I won’t forget any of it if I don’t keep churning it over and over in my head. I’ve divided it into sections, created subtasks and done all the good things an organiser should do.

The one thing I’m not doing? Starting any of it.

I don’t know if it’s the residual overwhelm of trying to keep on top of everything that is holding me back, or the fact that it’s a beautiful day and I’m camped out in the long grass of our backyard with my bare feet in the sun or that actually, I have ticked off quite a lot of my tasks and projects this week and maybe I just need a break.

The question here isn’t even really why I’m not doing anything. It’s why I still feel so unsettled by slowing down.

For the last few years, I have unequivocally been saying that the mainstream lifestyle of hustle and go-go-go was not for me. I simply don’t believe that my importance is defined by how busy I am, that my worth is defined by how much money I make or how far up the career ladder I climb or that the more “stuff” I have the better I am doing at life. Yet I still have to live and engage with a world where these ideals are the norm and let me tell you it’s a really hard mindset to break.

No matter how much logic and peace of mind I’ve found in the idea of slowing down, my husband still has to remind me to stop and rest. Partly it’s because having found these new ways of living that have struck such a chord with me has made me want to dive headfirst into putting them into action – ironic, I know. But a lot of it is that I am so used to running so as not to go flying off the treadmill of life with its ever-increasing speed and non-existent finish line that I don’t know any other way.

So here is today’s thought.

Life is a practice, not a destination.

There will never be a point where I can stop and say that everything is in place and life is as it should be. I’m always going to have to be adapting and evolving. I can’t wait until everything is perfect before I start feeling like I’m “doing it right”.

If the aim is no longer to arrive at a finishing point then I can look at life as much much more fluid entity. I can stop thinking that I didn’t get enough done this week because I haven’t ticked everything off my list and instead appreciate what I have achieved – because I know there will always be next week and the week after. I can stop feeling guilty for taking some time to sit in the sun and just enjoy the loveliness of the day. I can recognise the importance of taking (or let’s be really bold and go one step further by making) time to rest and recharge when my motivation is just not firing.

I can spend time living instead of just preparing for life.

The second lesson that relates to life being a practice is that I don’t have to get it right all at once. It’s actually ok to struggle with slowing down because I may have been working towards this for a couple of years now but that still leaves roughly 95% of my life that I wasn’t living this way – in relative terms, I’m still very new at it. It figures that, as with most things in life, the more you do it the better at it you become. It’s also true that there’s often no shortcut – you have to put in the work, and more importantly, you have to stop beating yourself up for not being amazing at something straight out of the box.

If I had everything I wanted out of life tomorrow, then what would I do next week?

What I’m striving to do is to find joy in the process, in the doing not the done. It may be a stretch but some days I’d like to look at my to-do list with excitement and anticipation for the potential each task holds rather than a weight to carry or a stick to beat myself with.

So what did I end up doing on this particular sunny Saturday?

First, I made a point to acknowledge everything I had achieved during the week. Then I listened to my mind and body – if they were resisting my to-do list that hard there was likely to be a reason other than pure procrastination. Having looked back at how much I had done the previous week also allowed me to see that I had been quite busy and some downtime was probably in order

I spent some of the afternoon with my husband. We walked down to our local cafe for coffee. On the way home, we detoured past the second-hand shop to browse for treasures, then popped in to buy some fresh salad ingredients for dinner. Then once we got home we stretched out on our bed with our laptops, books and our cats and worked on some personal projects.

Knowing that the to-do list will always be there and stopping briefly does not mean I will fall behind or never be able to start again.

It’s all in the practice.