Below are a few (seven) things I am experimenting with, re-learning, and learning anew about what I often perceive as my soul-crushing, bleary-eyed, reasons-I-am-not-good-enough to do lists at work and at home. I am trying to find the breath and the relaxation in the doing. Resting in motion.
1 Time isn’t real. I know it sounds super hippie, but it’s true. Often we think something will take longer or shorter time than it actually does. No matter how hard I look at it or how long, when I actually start working on things, time stretches in funny ways. The minutes are often too short, but sometimes incredibly long.
2 Often, I can’t clean or stay quiet for long periods of time without composing a poem or being distracted by something unearthed or beautiful. And perhaps this is a good thing. If we enjoyed our to do lists, maybe we would get more done. A friend commented on this as I raked leaves and photographed them at the same time. Something to the effect of, “This is what happens when you give a writer a rake.” I noticed this middle leaf was in a color transition. It is also the most striking. It helps to think of my own transitions this way: as striking, poignant. Not just something to get through.
3 Taking care of myself feels good. When all is said and done, making doctor’s appointments, paying bills, sweeping, renewing my virus software, all of it felt better than “resting” in front of the TV. Granted, both have their value, but I spend so much of my week taking care of others (I am the director of an elementary enrichment program) that even just attending to the minutia felt meditative and grounding. It also can help me feel alive and inspired! I’d like to remember this next time I want to scream while approaching my to do list.
4 And, to my next thought. Someone told me once to stop making lists. To just do it. I had kind of a meltdown earlier in the week, feeling crushed by doing doing doing and not being being being being. It woke me up. Even in the doing, self-care is first. I started making my to do list for the day, and half way down the page, I froze. I called a friend. Then I threw away the to do list. I knew what I needed to do to start. I could go back and write things down mid-doing if I needed to. The doing was so much better than getting stuck in the to do list.
5 Did I mention I called a friend? Turns out we were both a bit stuck. My friend feeling solitary and isolated, and me petrified. So, as we often do, he came over. He sat and worked on his to do list, while I did mine. We are both single, but it felt like living with family. Like we had community. Like despite individualist tendencies, we aren’t meant to do this whole damn life thing alone. The whole room shifted. I could breathe again. Everything felt a little yellow and familiar — warm. I felt supported and amused, as we interrupted the “to do” every once in awhile with a note of thought, or watching my foster cat out the window sitting in a pot anytime we took things too seriously. My cat is used to long pauses. We followed suit.
6 And then there is what I am calling the “after-list.” This is the re-written list of everything I did and potentially did well. I find that even after a productive day, I usually just stare at all the things that aren’t crossed off as if my entire sense of self worth depends on it. Well, my self worth does not depend on how productive I am. But I am employing harm reduction here, because my consciousness doesn’t always get that. So, while some part of my still thinks I am good if my productivity is good, then I will praise myself to high heavens for what I have accomplished, even if it is something as simple as finally washing my backpack, or taping my knee. I did it!! It was a struggle but goddamnit, I did it! And every time I do these things, I am telling myself I am important. I am an important person to take care of too. I matter.
7 Categories. I also revamped my to do list. Instead of a long list of minutia, I put things into categories like “health” or “clearing” or “career.” I gave myself and hour and a half to focus on each and just plug away at the bullet points living in those categories. But after awhile, it didn’t feel like plugging away. It felt like my spiritual practice. It felt like the big picture. It felt like it mattered.
Here, I worked a twelve hour day and thought, there is no way I can write something coherent in 30 minutes, but here it is! Ah, the glorious illusion of time. I don’t know if everyone struggles with their to do list like I do, but my guess is that I am not alone. Maybe some of these insights will help you to also rest in motion. And then, there’s also good old resting by the creek after a farmer’s market: