As a child, I could while away an afternoon lying in an open field listening to the sounds of nature or dozing in a hammock in the sunshine or catching frogs in the garden or riding my bike around the block and over trails or listening to music or …
It didn’t feel like wasted time or as though I was just waiting for something else. In my thirties, as I tried to reduce stress to improve my health, I spent hours on a porch swing watching and identifying hummingbirds. I watched spectacular storms and listened to rain.
How hard this is not just for me but for others was brought home to me on a recent vacation that I took with my mother and sister. I enjoy sightseeing, but it seemed impossible to carve out blocks of time just to lay by the resort pool or set up on the beach for a morning or an afternoon. Even spending an evening with the balcony doors open and music playing on my iPod while we relaxed in our pajamas was rare.
I understand some of this. I find it harder to slow down when I’m with others. I stayed with a friend on the Oregon coast several times over several years. Each morning after she’d left for work, I’d get up, pack a small cooler with drinks and snacks, grab my knitting, collect my book and my audiobook and load up my car. I’d drive the twenty minutes to the beach and park. Once there, I’d pick a place to park where I wouldn’t get stuck and where I could see and hear the ocean. I’d usually walk down and dip my toes in the waves and then spend the morning relaxing. I even napped a couple of times (since I am not a morning person). Around noon or so, the beach would start to get busy and I’d return to my friend’s place. Or I’d go for a drive or have lunch along the way. I made no real plans. I took a mid-week and stayed at Surfside Resort in Rockaway Beach where ocean front rooms were built on pylons to allow for high tide. I could spend the days and evenings with my balcony doors opened feeling as though the ocean was literally in the room with me. I usually left the door cracked and fell asleep to the sound of those waves at night.
These experiences were very relaxing, but I sometimes grew restless. The restlessness felt like aimlessness. What was I accomplishing? Weren’t there things I needed to do? Why are those questions so common? (Living in the now is extremely hard when you’re trained to multi-task and pursue self-improvement.) Was I wasting my time? Why do we think time not spent accomplishing something is wasted?
Reading and being able to fall into a book as though immersed or as though seeing a movie in my head, lets me know what being fully present feels like. And, sometimes being fully present means being gone. Focus sometimes triggers moments of perfect presence. I’ve started making jewelry … or organizing and sorting all my yarn … or cataloging and arranging the books in my library only to look up and find that hours have passed.
Well into my thirties, I was a lucid dreamer. I could loosely plot my dreams and then dream them. I could correct them it they went too far off course. And I often remembered them. As my insomnia grew and I was put on medication, this ability dwindled. I rarely dream and remember now. When I do, I’m happier. Too much planning leads me away from stillness and then opportunities for being present become periods of restlessness as I wait for the things I’ve planned to happen. Waiting becomes something to be avoided. Accomplishment and action become all.
In our western civilization, we can never do or have enough. Things must always grow and improve. Companies making the same profits this year as they did last year are seen as failing. People living simply and enjoying simple things are failures. Fighting against cultural and social norms is hard, but we all have to be conscious of what our choices mean. Are we living the way that we want to? Why or why not?