Remember how back in the old days, if you were waiting at the doctor’s surgery, you had to read three-year-old issues of Woman’s Day (Aaaaw, look at Tom and Katie still being robotically-awkward together before she made her Great Escape!)?
Remember when lining up at the check-out counter meant standing there being bored and eyeing off the Freddo Frogs and thinking about what was for dinner?
Remember when those spaces in between other, more important things, were just spent thinking or doodling or conversing or staring off into space?
Yeah, me too.
Now of course, we fill those moments up.
With technology. With social media. With frenetic, device-assisted doing.
So many moments, that once would have been vacant, are now filled.
And we’ve forgotten how to just be.
I am a prime example of this. The other day, my boyfriend and I were going toilet shopping for our currently-being-renovated bathroom. Previously, I had been under the (mistaken) impression that as long as a toilet was clean, white and flushable, then it was fine. But my Boy had other ideas and desires and Very Important Design Requirements. So whereas I would have happily pointed to the first reasonably-priced loo that met my eye, I knew that instead, we’d be up for an afternoon of discussions with salesmen about Bowl Size and Installation Specifications and Poo Ergonomics. (Okay, I made that last one up, but you get the idea.)
In short, I knew it was going to be a long, boring afternoon.
And then, disaster struck: as we set out on our drive to Bathroom Shop #1, I realised that I didn’t have my iPad with me.
And I got upset.
Quite, quite upset.
I began to worry, because it meant that I wouldn’t be able to check my emails, write blog posts, review my Google analytics, stay up-to-date with client communications, read that new book I’d just downloaded, organise my Evernote file or type my random thoughts into my Ideas document. For three whole hours, I’d have none of that.
It was an afternoon wasted.
I was consumed with the thought that I was being inefficient. That I was squandering time, wasting opportunities, that the world was speeding on without me and I would be Left Behind.
I kept this rising panic hidden though. Cos I’m ‘enlightened’ enough to know that it’s ridiculously stupid (but of course not enlightened enough to let it pass in the first place). I quashed my upset and refused to allow the panicky, petulant tantrum within me to burst forth. Instead, I was just vaguely terse and pissy to my boyfriend in that generic way that puzzles him so.
In short, those personal credentials I’m so proud of — Enlightened Being and Model Girlfriend — were definitely not on display.
All because I couldn’t be productive for a few moments in between toilet bowls.
Of course I got over it. Of course I knew I was being stupid. Of course I talked myself down and reasoned myself out of it. But not before making myself feel like shit for close to an hour.
It led me to ponder:
When did we decide that every moment has to be productive?
When did we start to think that all our moments, all our spaces, needed to be filled up with doing?
When did we start to think that time spent waiting or in transit or just standing in line was a personal failing?
When I was able to make peace with (shock horror) the fact that I’d have to sit in bathroom showrooms without my ‘busy’ tools, I decided that there was only one thing to do: try to be in the moment.
Well that’s not true, there was another alternative: continue to stress about my lack of productivity, give off an aura of distress and generally make life fun for all those around me.
I took option one.
I looked at toilets graciously, and giggled with my boyfriend when we found ones with funny names, and made enough toilet/poo jokes to make a thirteen year-old boy proud. When Adam was off discussing specifics, I just sat there. Quiet. Still.
And totally, one hundred percent fine.
I think giving our brains and hearts space around everything else we do — all the busy-ness — is probably really fricking important for our mental health. And although I’m a massive fan of meditation, I don’t even mean anything as structured as that.
I just mean a little revelling in a loose moment.
A little wallowing in mind-wandering, -wondering, -pondering.
A little recognition of the beauty of a random Tuesday afternoon spent doing nothing — something — anything.
And you know how this story ends, right? Nothing bad happened from my afternoon of spaciousness. I’d like to say that something awesome happened (like ‘while I was sitting on the edge of a gorgeous LooMaster Maxitron, staring off into space, a million-dollar idea for my next ebook popped into my head‘) but that wouldn’t be true. I didn’t even come up with an idea for dinner. But that doesn’t change the fact that it is a happy ending: nothing bad happened. I felt a little bit of space, a little bit of light and a little bit of free.
And it felt good.
Letting go of the feeling that I need to be productive all the time felt… spacious. But of course — this being life, and this being me, and me being human — it hasn’t exactly lasted. That familiar, frenetic thought pattern has chased me down and caught me and still clings on piggy-back-style some days.
But that’s okay.
Cos I’m getting better. Cos I know the space is there. Cos I know that it won’t kill me or hurt me and it might even help me.
And it’s all a process…
Are you driven to busy-ness too? Are you searching for space?