Life today is often spent running from one thing to the next, feeling like you’re being chased by a burning fuse that’s about to explode if you don’t get to each thing on time.
I’ve heard people disdain the phrase “I’m busy” as a modern affectation. That is, people are saying “I’m busy, so I’m important, I’m going places”.
I don’t agree with that judgment. I think most people are busy.
Perhaps it depends on where you live. According to the latest census, seven out of 10 of us live in a capital city. Capitals can be expensive, and often in a family both parents need to work. In my case, we have two small children, one goes to school and the other is in day care. You might be thinking, surely that doesn’t amount to a “busy” life?
But our days are school drop-offs, getting to work on time, completing tasks at work, getting home in time to pick up the kids, doing homework, getting dinner ready and then everyone off to bed.
Each week is planned meticulously so that it doesn’t all fall apart.
But what we don’t plan is time for reflection. Time for peace. Time to shut the world out and let our minds wonder.
Recently I stuck my burning fuse in the sand long enough to have dinner with a close friend, and it turns out we’re both looking for our own bit of quiet in a chaotic world.
We were chatting about a meditation course I’d signed up for. I have so little space in my life, the only way I thought I could get some was by committing to something. Paying for a course – in my mind – would force me to carve out some time in my day.
My friend, inspired by reading Cheryl Strayed’s WILD, takes time out from her life as a single mum to go on long bushwalks. Her daughter is now 4, and she’s asking herself some big questions about what she wants to do with her working life. She said spending a day walking in the bush (while her daughter is with her dad) has given her the space and time she needs to really think about her options.
I’m 40 now, and it feels like I’m standing on the threshold of something new and exciting. At the same time it feels like life is rushing past me with a million thoughts and emotions, with no time to process them. That can’t be healthy.
Charlotte Thaarup-Owen, director of the Mindfulness Clinic, says a life without reflection means that we’re living on autopilot. We don’t realise we’re unhappy or that we’re making unwise choices until it’s too late.
Start a regular conversation with yourself like this, and amazing changes unfold
Amy Taylor-Kabbaz, mindfulness coach
“The other point is that reflection is key to learning and changing. When we don’t reflect, our change tends to be only in the direction of a negative bias.”
The main problem for me is finding the time to reflect. If I want to meditate, I have to get up before my kids. Ditto with yoga. Reflection works best without the sound of wailing children or someone crawling over your head.
Where do we find time to reflect, before the world wakes up and starts with all its noise and chaos? Getting up at 5.30am every morning is a fantasy for most. Late nights at work or children waking us up means that when the alarm goes off in the cold morning pre-dawn, the best self-care action feels like throwing that alarm clock against the wall and going back to sleep.
To be honest, the course I’ve signed up for is slightly terrifying. We’re meant to do an hour of meditation every day for the eight weeks of the course. I can’t find even 10 minutes now.
Amy Taylor-Kabbaz is a mindfulness coach and author of Happy Mama, the guide to finding yourself again. She says we don’t prioritise time to slow down because we don’t value it.
“We don’t believe that stopping what we are doing is going to make any difference to how we are feeling – in fact, we worry that if we do stop, it will all get worse. We believe that busy-ness and doing more is the answer, not saying no and slowing down.
“While we might need more support from our partners, our workplace and our families to create the space we need, it starts with us,” she says.
Being busy can be a choice because it fills a need, it tells us who we are. Recently my mother-in-law came to stay to help with the kids. It allowed life to slow down, it gave me space and time. And I had no idea what to do with it. Who was I, if no one needed me? I was completely discombobulated.
What does reflection even look like? Amy says “grab a notebook or journal, and ask yourself how you think you’re going. What’s working? What am I proud of? What do I really want to know the answer to? And what is it that I really want more of in my life? Start a regular conversation with yourself like this, and amazing changes unfold”.
That’s all well and good, but we still need to carve out that time from our busy schedules.
Perhaps it’s about taking baby steps, and blocking out moments of time once a week. Or making it a real treat with a glass of wine and a lit candle (or whatever tickles your fancy).
Maybe it’s as Amy tells her mums – set your alarm for three times a day. Each time it goes off, do a three-minute meditation. Three minutes has to be achievable, right?
When my mother-in-law was in town I didn’t use my new-found space to reflect. I filled that time with more work. I did my tax, I planned for buying Christmas presents. In July.
So yes. I have a problem. And I accept that it’s going to take some pretty hard work to change the way my brain is wired. But at 40, it’s probably time for me to prioritise some space in my life.
However you find it, it seems important that we all make time for some reflection. Otherwise we might find ourselves sleepwalking through the rest of our lives.