Summer Slow-Down: Learning to Relax

A beach with two people relaxing under a pair of palm trees

As my mom will tell you, I’ve never very been good at relaxing.  Since about sixth grade, I’ve been involved in all sorts of things.  As an adult, you will rarely find me sitting down when I’m at home.  I tend to spend my evenings and weekends working out, doing yard work, doing laundry or other chores around the house, attending a meeting or event, visiting friends, or working on some kind of project.  I pretty much never sit in front of a television, and my relaxation time is usually scheduled (e.g., yoga class, meditation group, occasional massage or mani/pedi).

I tend to have the “so much to do, so little time” mindset.  I think part of this can be attributed to perfectionism and part to a fear of missing out.  My mom recently gave me some notebooks she found that were filled with things I’d written as a teenager.  Looking through the notebooks, I can see that the so-much-to-do thought process had a hold on me from a young age.  Here’s a brief excerpt from one of the notebooks:

Maybe if I write down before I go to bed everything that I want to accomplish the next day, I can bring my to-do list down to a more manageable size.  Basically that’s the bottom line — I just feel overwhelmed lately.  I have so much to do that I don’t feel like I can accomplish everything and still be able to do what I want to do, like spending time with friends, and doing more reading and painting/drawing.

Can you feel the anxiety?  Here’s a short poem I jotted down last year:

I am always making lists,
Creating obligations,
Self-imposed commitments

Writing down reminders of things I want to do,

What if later never comes?

Or worse, if it does–
What if the tasks never get done?

The last stanza was in part making fun of myself.  What will happen? Nothing.  The world will go on spinning, and it’s likely no one will ever know that I didn’t cross all the items off my to-do list.

I’ve had to scale back my activity lately due to a medical procedure (nothing major — I’m fine), and to my surprise, I’ve really enjoyed the change of pace.  Instead of filling my evenings with planned tasks, I’ve been enjoying nice, slow dinners with family, reading, meditating, and going to bed early.  Being lazy feels wonderful.  These calmer, quieter, unscheduled evenings have also given me the thought space to generate new ideas and consider bigger goals.  I occasionally experience some momentary guilt about not getting enough exercise or not staying on top of household chores, but then I remind myself that those things will still be there next week.

Yes, life is short, but it’s also long.  We don’t have to do everything today, this week, or even in this season of our lives.  And there are things we can and perhaps should remove from our lists without ever doing them, because in the grand scheme of things, they don’t really matter much. Achievement can be satisfying, but if we are always working to accomplish tasks or complete projects, we miss out on opportunities for quiet contemplation, deeper connection, and pure enjoyment of the amazing world in which we live.

Do I expect to continue this exceptionally chill lifestyle long-term?  No.  I’m already getting a little restless, and in a few weeks, I’m sure I’ll have started a new workout plan and will be back to scheduling my evenings and checking items off to-do lists (hopefully with a renewed sense of purpose and recharged energy).  But I do think I’ll make a little more space for reading and meditating, and maybe I’ll even block off a few hours of truly free time each week to protect it from my own Type A tendencies.

In the meantime, I hope we’re all able to enjoy these long, hot summer days as they should be enjoyed:  slowly, playfully, and peacefully.

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