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From The Writing Life by Annie Dillard comes this beautiful and poignant meditation on a life well lived, gently reminding us of the trade-offs we constantly make between being and doing:
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order — willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living. Each day is the same, so you remember the series afterward as a blurred and powerful pattern.”
When I first read this, it stopped me in my tracks and made me ask myself – how was I spending my days? Was I spending each day adding value to my life and the people in my life or was I simply frittering each day away meeting “urgent” deadlines, being distracted with gossip or engaging in office politics and indulging my materialistic impulses. So much of our popular culture is obsessed with being so busy and feeling value only when our days are jam packed and when we’ve ticked off our to-do list.
It’s like we’ve forgotten what we are – that we are human beings, not human doings. We are fabulous at doing. Just look around. The advancements humankind has achieved in the last century is mind boggling. I read recently that what we now experience in one day is what our predecessors used to experience in a lifetime 250 years ago. Isn’t that breathtaking?
There is a cost to all this doing. Our nervous systems come under a lot of pressure. Stress and anxiety are on the rise, and with it, comes a frenetic busyness that is continually storing stress, tension and fatigue in our bodies. Over time, we end up locked inside a deep mental holding pattern, and we are plagued by over 60,000 thoughts on any given day. Is it any wonder we feel exhausted with modern life?
For those going the speed of light to get everything done – slow down. Make time for quiet. Start by feeling your heartbeat or listening to your breath. Find the silence within yourself. Let your being (your true self) that is buried deep within, gently percolate to the top of your mind.
Time is so precious, which is why you shouldn’t feel the need to fill it with activity. Time, and how we spend it, is what makes up our lives.
The Writing Life is the kind of book that stays with you for lifetimes.
“There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by. A life of good days lived in the senses is not enough. The life of sensation is the life of greed; it requires more and more. The life of the spirit requires less and less; time is ample and its passage sweet. Who would call a day spent reading a good day? But a life spent reading — that is a good life.”
An excellent reminder that every day is a thread that weaves the fabric of our lives. Each thread is just as important as the next in creating the life we imagine.