Friday, August 22, 2008

In Praise of Emptiness

I'm looking at my to-do lists for the weekend. 23 items, some of them time consuming. And this is just a typical low-key weekend for me. No traveling, I'm not hosting any event, none of the tasks require advanced preparation. 23 items - exactly who do I think I am that I can finish a first week of a job, jam pack my weekend, and be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for Monday morning?

This week in the New York Times, there was an article entitled "A Place and an Era in Which Time Could Stand Still". It discusses the need to let kids have some time with nothing to do during summer camp rather than cramming activity after activity into their days. And this consideration is worth a look for adults, too, especially those engaged in creative pursuits. We need time to let our task-master minds unwind if we are to get at our best creative thinking. It's buried beneath all of our to-do lists and action items.     

Why do we keep doing this to ourselves? Why are we obsessed with the need to be productive at every moment. Our European neighbors have a way of looking at life that is practically the antithesis of the American view - they enjoy life and the people around them. They savor the experience of life and the simple happiness that comes from lingering over a cup of coffee and a good book in an outdoor cafe. We chug the coffee and speed read the book in a packed subway car. Is it any wonder that we are dealing with so many health issues and a general lack of enjoyment in this country?

Recognizing this need to unwind, the editors at Real Simple Magazine put together a 14-day stress detox program. I looked for an on-line link but the list is only available in print and includes things like taking time to be grateful and investing a little time in gardening of any kind, even if it's just a windowsill house plant. It's well worth the look with one caveat - I would recommend stretching out the changes and enjoying them, reflecting on them, and fully ingesting their meaning and power. The last thing we need is another deadline and a another item on a rushed to-do list.   

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