It’s been a minute since I was in college. Ok, maybe a couple of minutes. Yet still, I find myself at the end of December and early January with a “winter break” mentality. Like most of us, I assume I’ll have a few weeks of “downtime” when work slows down and life will give me a bit of space to dial things down a notch.
Except you and me both know what happens with that space. You know because you do it, too.
At first it’s a slow trickle, and then, a full pile-on, first a few hours and then days, and before you know it, all of it’s gone. You look at those weeks and you think, “That would be a great time to work on <<insert project you’ve been putting off here>,” since you have so much, you know, extra time.
Maybe it’s cleaning out your closet, or catching up with people out of town, or finishing (starting) most (ALL) of your Round 2 graduate school applications. (Yes, I see you.) Maybe, if you’re like me, you thought it would be a great time to reconcile a year’s worth of accounting for a small business (hellllllp, said the English major meekly). Whatever it is, your dance card fills up fast, and before you know it, your “downtime” is just another space filled with productivity goals.
It’s not just this time of year, either. We love to fill our time, even when it means structuring our recreation to “make the most” of it. I’m 100% guilty of looking at rest as an opportunity to catch up on shows, organize my reading list, and work on future planning. This year, it hit me really hard, though.
I was about halfway through my “break” and less than halfway through my truly ambitious list, when I got a proverbial punch in the face from the flu. Yup, like the real influenza, despite getting vaccinated against it this year. Invincibility score? Zero. Ability to move my body across the room? Limited to none. Ambitious project list? Abandoned.
I was NOT PLEASED about any of this.
Why? Because I looooooove being productive. I get *ish done, y’all. Until I can’t, that is.
Instead of my usual tendency of pushing myself to function the moment I felt the tiniest spark of energy return, I sat with myself. I watched my discomfort. I gazed straight at my “need” to move, and I didn’t.
And then, the lessons showed up. First, boredom, then a slight sense of panic. Then, there were questions. Why do I feel like I always need to be doing something? Why is there a constant list of tasks and timelines running through my brain? Perhaps most important, is that how I want to be most of the time?
In other words, influenza forced me into meditation by stripping away my ability to distract myself with “important” things. I saw myself, and I didn’t love what I saw (pajamas rotation and bed hair excepted, obvi).
Meditation brings us back to center, which is to say, it sits us down with ourselves. It makes us listen to the sound of our own inner voice, and shows us patterns of thought and behavior that are easy to ignore in distraction.
Even though I’m a meditation teacher, I’m still human, which means my meditation journey is ongoing, just like everyone else’s. This “winter break,” that journey took a sharp left turn — right squarely towards where it needed to go, apparently. I reconnected with the necessity of stillness, and with creating — and protecting — space for absolutely nothing. Turns out there’s plenty there to see and hear, if you’re willing to really look at it, and give yourself permission to do nothing, so you can truly listen.
(Want some more food for thought on downtime? Check out this read, which served as inspo for me during my forced staycation.)
Photo credit: Eneida Nieves