Tuesday Artist Date: On the difficulty of taking time for myself

The worst loneliness is not to be comfortable with yourself.

–Mark Twain

I’m a little sick this week, so I haven’t had the energy yet to go out and take a proper artist date. But I’m not feeling too drained (well, other than being slightly sick… and living with Erik who is more sick, and visibly miserable), because for the past month I’ve been endeavoring to take two hours of quiet time every day, morning and night, just for myself. As I (and Sherry) predicted, this has not been an easy practice to keep up. There’s always something demanding my attention, so skipping my quiet time is a constant temptation. Moreover, since I haven’t defined what qualifies as quiet time, I regularly find myself rationalizing that some activity counts as me-time when deep down I know it’s just work. For instance, the FabMo show is coming up in a mere couple of weeks, and it’s been hard not to devote every night’s “quiet time” to making bags for sale. Yes, I’ve always found nighttime sewing to be a peaceful pursuit, but the point of me-time is to be present with myself, and I can’t do that if I’m checking whether my seams are straight.* My surface brain may be reassuring me, “Yes, this IS quiet time! You’re doing it!” but my wiser intuitive self tells me, “No, you’re just kidding yourself.” Unfortunately, surface brain is much louder… but one thing the quiet time is teaching me is how to listen harder for that deeper wisdom.

If we have listening ears, God speaks to us in our own language, whatever that language is.

–Gandhi

This is how it’s going so far. I’d say I manage my hour of morning quiet time maybe 75% of the time. Mornings are good, unless I get up later than usual — by 8 AM, surface brain is screaming at me not to waste an hour in “doing nothing.” I’m always thinking that if I don’t start my day on a productive footing, the rest of the day is shot. So hanging on to me-time when I oversleep is a challenge. Evenings are trickier still. I go to bed at 10, and try to end my day with an hour of wind-down time with Erik, so that means if I want an hour for myself in the evening I need to take it at 8. At that hour I still feel like I can get lots of work done, so I’m always super-reluctant to give up that productivity for quiet time. I probably get evening quiet time only about 30% of my days, and that’s often at the expense of (some or all of my) wind-down time with Erik.

When I do take my quiet time, I spend it in various ways. I try to meditate regularly, even though it’s hard. I do a lot of yoga and stretching, which do much to counteract the physical discomforts of crafting. I’ll read a few chapters of Pema Chödrön while sitting on the happy chair with Tisha on my lap. (Indeed, one of the greatest gifts of the quiet-time practice is spending time with our dying cat.) I’ve taken luxurious showers, gone for walks in the hills, and stood on our deck looking out at San Francisco and the bay. It all sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? Yet if my actions are to be believed, 7 nights out of 10, I’d rather be playing computer games or catching up on emails than doing any of these lovely things.

Do not call procrastination laziness. Call it fear.

-Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way

Even with my incomplete attention to this practice, it’s teaching me a lot. I feel a lot calmer and less attached to outcomes. When my blender spewed hot puréed lentils all over our kitchen one morning, I responded with long-range perspective (“this is no big deal”) rather than freaking out over the immediate “disaster.” I’m not overeating as much, and I’m exercising more; sometimes I even feel like my senses are better! But I’m also learning quite a lot from the times when I don’t do the practice. What stories do I concoct  to justify not taking time for myself? How many different ways can I reject this quiet time as unimportant, negligible, frivolous, and unproductive? How do I feel when I skip it? Doing the practice brings me peace and clarity; attempting to avoid it gets me in touch with my hangups in all their glory! Am I petty, judgmental, fearful, anxious, and selfish? You bet! All these things come out.

A life truly lived constantly burns away veils of illusion, burns away what is no longer relevant, gradually reveals our essence, until, at last, we are strong enough to stand in our naked truth.

–Marion Woodman, quoted in Stephen Cope, Yoga and the Quest for the True Self

I feel like this daily practice is getting me deeper into myself in a way that meshes perfectly with the morning pages I’ve been doing for a few years now. The pages help me make connections in my brain; quiet time is teaching me to do it without my (left) brain or a pen in my hand. It took me a year or two to commit to the pages on a daily basis; now I hardly ever skip them. Perhaps it’ll be the same way with quiet time. These tools are like how Chödrön describes meditation. They don’t bring enlightenment, they just help me to see things more clearly, to recognize more quickly what’s going on inside my head. And what else is there, really?

Perhaps the reward of the spirit who tries is not the goal but the exercise.

–E V Cooke

—–

I know this isn’t exactly an artist date entry, but as I let go of other pursuits and focus more and more on the family history, I think we’ll find that the daily theme gets more and more fluid. I’m considering changing them at some point or even doing away with them altogether, but I’ll wait and see how things work out.

 

 

 

 

 

*In fact, I’ve discovered that preparing for a craft show pushes my brain into overdrive because my inner event planner cannot let go of a single detail. Show prep is the perfect antithesis of expansive, calm, intuitive mind!