It wasn’t just about six weeks of dieting, or the rigorous discipline required of a new project, or the usual activities of daily life that require paperwork and phone calls and more paperwork and more phone calls. It was a whole host of things coming together all at once; I needed a day without rules. And this past weekend, I took it.
Now, breaking rules that impact others in negative ways is not the same as untethering ourselves from chains of our own making. When I realized my organized brain was beginning to rebel against too full a self-imposed dance card — Hello… Relaxation? Are you still there? — that’s when I chose a day to roust my routines, yield to my yearnings, and give up the guide ropes that normally serve me so well.
I put down my proverbial pen. I shed the constraints of a drag-on diet. I allowed my mind to wander, old movies to amuse me, and some of my favorite books to find their way back into my hands.
How Do You Relax?
What about you? When you feel yourself on the edge of a dense, pressing excess of Things To Do though you know you need to refuel and re-center, then what?
Do you call a few friends and coordinate an impromptu get-together? Do you grab a map — yes, an actual paper map — and head off down the road for a spontaneous adventure?
Do you allow yourself a walk through nature? Would you prefer to meander in the mall? Are you happier taking to the crowded city to enjoy the pulse of its population and the aromas of its food trucks?
Might you, like me, curl up in the quiet somewhere to take solace in stories of unusual characters and faraway places?
Does the way that you finally take time for yourself depend on where you are and with whom? Aren’t you more efficient, more effective, and more productive after a genuine break from your norm? Aren’t you, well… nicer?
Some of us pride ourselves on very old school, much lauded, typically American “work ethic” values: focus, determination, persistence. And discipline? As an independent worker, if you don’t have discipline — self-discipline — you can forget it. You must be able to effectively (and naturally?) create structure within which to work where no such imposed structure already exists.
Fortunately, that’s never been a problem for me. On the contrary; if anything, the opposite is more of a struggle. Casting the day’s and the week’s checklist out of my consciousness (and off my nagging virtual desk), even for a few hours, is nearly impossible.
Of course, for anyone who has read about, watched on the news, or is living through the recent devastation of hurricane Harvey, any of the usual daily challenges pale in complexity and need. We are reminded how much we depend on each other, how much we take for granted, and how precious are our most fundamental gifts — loved ones, health, home, community.
Yet when the routines that most of us take on begin to feel like a choke hold, even if a mix of significant responsibilities and an endless stream of things that keep us busy, shouldn’t we force a pause on occasion? Shouldn’t we take stock? Aren’t some of these activities and commitments items we convince ourselves must be done? Worse, don’t we adhere to false convictions that if they aren’t done a certain way or at a certain time, all Hell will break loose?
Perspective Is Found When We Step Back
Sometimes, we just need to take a step back, to reassess, to give ourselves a day or even two without rules. We need to set aside the bills, the phone calls, the reading group assignment; we need to nix the newspaper, the weekend visit to an irritating aunt, the housework in a space that is already clean enough. We need to can the calorie counting (yes, just eat the ice cream), the three-mile run, and run to a quiet corner in the apartment or the house instead — to settle in with Frank Sinatra or Frank Langella, or maybe Fanny Price.
We need our angst-easing albums, our campy favorite films, our familiar words in novels that give us consistent comfort. There is little, really, that can’t be put away for an afternoon or an evening now and then — in favor of something that refills the well.
And for me, that means a day of expressly saying no — to my own rules — as the only way of saying yes to a saner, stronger self.
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