“Once we realize that the boundaries between work and play are artificial, we can take matters in hand and begin the difficult task of making life more livable.”—Daniel Pink, DRIVE: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
Work is play. Play can be made into work. This applies up and down the spectrum. Cleaning out the garage (as I did yesterday) can be an arduous task (you would especially think this if you saw the state of the thing). Or it can be some much-needed physical labor wherein my body got to move and, step-by-step, I brought order to disorder, a reward for the mind. Starting a new story (as I’ll be doing today) can be a daunting task—work I might dread—filled with procrastination and anxiety and that twitchy battle with Resistance, which would rather I cleaned the garage… anything other than the life-fulfilling creative work I’m meant to do.
But neither cleaning the garage nor writing the story are intrinsically play or work—it is entirely the mindset I bring to it.
(Don’t worry, my mind is very excited to dive into that story.)
Let’s frame it in a different way:
You have X minutes left to live. You don’t know precisely the value of X, but it’s probably greater than 1 minute and it’s definitely less than infinite minutes. Every minute will be spent doing something—eating, sleeping, working/playing—but you may not be aware of all the minutes. I think this is why people (in the US) are constantly sleep-deprived—we have this sense that we don’t want to “waste” time by being unconscious. And yet they sleepwalk through a good portion of the time they’re actually awake—mindlessly zoning out, constantly replaying anxieties about the past or future, or using any of a hundred distractions from the “tedium” of life—distractions served up minutely by our modern world.
Yet sleep is an essential part of living—powering down and letting your subconscious process the emotions of the day, as well as gaining physical rest, is essential for being fully aware of the minutes you live consciously awake. Zoning out (endlessly scrolling through Facebook is my personal time-waster) robs us of being conscious of the life we have right here, right now, in this very moment of which we only have one… and then it’s gone. (X-1) minutes left.
DOUBLE BONUS ROUND: each moment is both a physical and mental one.
I thought up this blog post while on a walk this morning. The physical part of the walk was repetitive (but glorious)—legs in determined strides, heart pumping fresh oxygen, lungs expanding, arms swinging. It was a dance of the body that one doesn’t truly appreciate until one can’t walk (or walk with pain, as was my fate for many months after my knee surgery). So I spent a good chunk of my walking time attending to my body’s sensations, especially my breathing. Not forcing it, just a mindfulness-of-the-walk, incorporating what I’d read the previous night about belly breathing vs. chest breathing. I was also attentive to the stress in my shoulders and back—not judging, just noticing. Understanding that that’s something I’m still working on—the Work in Progress that is Sue.
Noticing these internal-physical sensations was interlaced with attending to the external beauty of the day. Note: it was overcast and had recently rained. It was muggy but not yet hot. Typical Chicago August dreariness… and yet on my walk, it was all about squirrels chittering and bunnies hopping and the fresh-life smell of wet pavement. Not sure how that works—how does rain make even a dusty, worn road new? The inherent life-giving nature of water, I think. So I was soaking in my surroundings, recharging my sensation vaults as I cruised the sidewalks and roads. (I said Hello to a neighbor and commented on how it was a beautiful day—he looked at me like I was even more off my rocker than he suspected. I just laughed and moved on. Pretty sure he thinks I’m crazy now.)
When I wasn’t actively attending to my body or my surroundings, I was letting all the feelings and thoughts that rose up have some time in my head, then drift away. Sadness about my son who just left for college. Joyful imagining of our upcoming family Skype session. Thoughts about the story I’ll be writing today. The idea for this blog post. I wasn’t actively trying to think of anything—or trying not to think—just taking what came between attention to the sensations of the world. This diffuse-mode thinking is beneficial on many levels. It’s a relaxation of conscious thought that allows the subconscious to well up and mix things around. New ideas are born here—new associations, new integrations of previous thoughts and feelings. It’s attentive without being purposeful. It’s rejuvenating.
By the time I was done with my walk, those were 30 minutes well-lived.
(X – 30) minutes left, but somehow I feel like I gained time in that interlude. That’s the gift of being aware of your minutes. Time expands. It fills. It gives back for all the attention you give to it. This is part of what re-adjusted my idea about “having time” for exercise. Never mind all the health benefits—including the anti-stress, anti-depression effects—exercise time is High Value Living time. For me. Now. This has been a serious evolution for me in mindset. See above about the boundaries between work and play being artificial.
(Note: being mindful takes energy, and even if you want to live every minute with this kind of mindful attention, you simply can’t. It’s an ideal to strive for. Be gentle with yourself in this, as in all things.)
What does all this have to do with writing? Everything.
Exercise is self-care, and self-care is essential to productivity. Refreshing the mind with diffuse thinking time (not anxiety-laden or future-focused thinking) is a key part of being able to focus later. Exercise lets me sleep better, and better sleep lets me create more. Creating more makes my moments of living more rich. It all ties together.
Give yourself the gift of living a few moments today—fully, attentively, mindfully. (Hint: try it right before you do your creative work.) Soon—if you’re anything like me—you’ll be wanting more and more of that in your life and finding ways to do it.
And you’ll be living more moments, not just getting through the day.
Peace and Love,