By Roxanne Donovan - Wellness
January is the start of a new calendar year, a new semester, and, for me, a new year of life (my birthday is January 20th). Those are a lot of rebirths packed into just 31 days. That's probably why reflection comes naturally this month. I start with all the things I'm grateful for. The list is long. Along with the big things, I include everyday things that can easily be missed, such as seeing the sunrise when I drive my kids to school way too early in the morning.
Yet, even with this long list, I know more can be done to slow down and appreciate life as it comes. The need to do so is becoming more and more urgent as I get older and realize the fragility of time. Each day is a gift with no guarantee of another. A sobering thought to be sure, but also one that frees me to think more about how I want to live the days I'm lucky enough to have.
The answer this January was clear: less busyness, more nothing.
Let me explain. I'm a bit of an efficiency hack. I manage to squeeze as much out of my work hours as humanly possible so I can spend my personal time off-the-grid with family. That means I am on when working, moving from task to task with laser focus. You can even find me responding to emails as I wait in the kids' school carpool line or on a conference call as I drive home from work (using a hands-free device, of course).
The drawback is I'm never off during work hours, never doing nothing, which is horrible for creativity and health. As a psychologist, I know this, but I'm also a member of a culture that prizes busyness and that cultural pull is strong. Moreover, I'm a woman of color in unjust systems which creates a complicated individual and institutional/systemic interplay around perfectionism and overwork.
This year, though, I'm going to try hard to swim against this cultural tide. I have to. Time won't slow down for me, so I must slow down for it. To do that, I'm choosing to create space in my day and my life where I do absolutely nothing.
What does this nothingness look like?
As I boarded my flight to Denver for a psych conference in January, I was kicking myself for starting this do-nothing journey then. I'd be in the air for almost four hours with a pile of work on a plane that actually had functioning WiFi. It took all my willpower not to take my laptop out of the bag.
Then I sat down...next to the most amazing person. We talked the entire flight. I provided some advice to help with a painful family issue and received thoughtful guidance about a professional problem I was tackling. I even got a follow-up email about how my suggestions had worked to initiate the very beginnings of healing for the family. This deeply memorable encounter would have been impossible had my head been buried in a laptop. Thank you universe. I receive your gift.
Whatever your belief system, this is your one shot in this body on this planet in this moment. None of us will live forever. However, all of us can work in whatever ways we're able to cultivate lives of meaning. One small step toward that goal is to slow down and do a bit of nothing each day. I invite you to give it a try.
In peace and solidarity,