new and recycled thoughts 2014

I’ve decided that a pause is a necessary thing: taking a breath, stopping to think, looking at the world from a standstill instead of always in motion.

The trick is to choose the right moment, the appropriate duration, and the best perspective from which to see.

Taking time out has its pitfalls. Some may have trouble returning to a rhythm after a break. Others may be too fidgety to get real benefit from a change of pace. I fall into the group of folks who can feel guilty when not productive or moving at a good clip … which is how I justify my occasional couch potato tendencies. I need to work out the guilt for doing “nothing” by practicing.

I’m not lazy by anyone’s standards. In fact, I accomplish a great deal in a limited amount of time. My fairly new boss likes to quote the theory that a task will expand into the time you devote to it, so having “too much work” makes us more productive and is thus good. I don’t dispute the effectiveness of forced efficiency, but at what price? Sure, we can keep working faster to do more, but the opportunity cost — to use one of the few terms I remember from freshman economics — may be too great. In my case, quality suffers: I do B+ work because too much has to get done in my deadline-driven world. But worse is  personal sacrifice as the job overflows the limitations of the workday. Family, health, and spirit suffer from inattention. Individual needs get out-shouted by the pressures of the modern world: job performance, insta-communication, city living, the middle-class squeeze.

I recently returned to my daily life from ten days in quiet, snow-filled serenity, and the culture shock was almost more than I could bear. People on the streets seemed angry. Drivers were more cluelessly aggressive than I remembered. Pedestrians had an entitled, “I dare you to hit me” attitude, leaping out as my bumper entered the crosswalk, forcing slammed brakes or a sheepishly mouthed “I’m sorry” as I whizzed in front of them. The pace of my workday hit me like a set of Encyclopedia Britannica (a reference the kids I teach would surely not understand). I nearly wept when I was thwarted at the pharmacy by poor customer service.

A few days later, I take it all in stride and wonder — a bit ashamed — at my fragility in the post-vacation flurry.

But now I think maybe the Fragile Me has a point: why should it be so hard? why are people so stressed out? why do we rush through the day, checking things off our mental, physical, or bucket list (because even the fortunate feel pressured to do, have, and experience more)?

I’m not big on resolutions and I rarely make them. But inspired by a friend’s resolution not to buy anything new for 6 months (besides food and things that don’t quite work used), I’m resolving to pause from my hamster-on-a-wheel routine, every day, in some way. These pauses will include activities like dancing, yoga, or mediation. Creative pursuits count: making a photograph or drawing, playing the guitar. Interruptions for human interaction also make the list: a phone call to a friend, a meaningful conversation in the hallway as I rush to and from the photocopier. I want to work small habits of humanity back into my task-filled days, to be sure I am making time for the life I want, not just the one that is expected of me.

I think 2014 is going to be an enjoyable year.

admiring natural beauty (photo: afp 2013)

admiring natural beauty (photo: afp 2013)


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