Being, not doing

a release of compressing forces


The door to my bedroom in the house where I grew up was at the top of the stairs.  My window faced the street. 

In summer, the first light of morning seeped in around the edges of the pull-down shade, ending the night, the first evidence of a new day.  Sounds from the other bedroom doors and footfalls in the hall hinted the family was stirring.  My father’s voice was heard from the other side of my door, “Time to get up”.  But I was already awake.  Even as a kid, I was never one to steal additional moments of sleep.  I don’t recall ever having to be nudged awake or rolled out of bed.  I was incapable of “sleeping in”.  I was never late for school.

Even with this hard-wired affinity for morning, an alarm clock eventually became a fixture at my bedside, probably coinciding with my first “Real Job” (ironically, making treadmills).  The presence of a clock on a night table was a constant through the middle part of life, along with schedules and the daily reference to the calendar.  

Time is the indefinite continued progress of existence and events that occur in apparently irreversible succession from the past through the present to the future.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Clocks and calendars, a persistent awareness of the repetitive cycles of days, order imposed by adherence to specific time, specific date, specific sequence, specific action, specific place; these made up the foundation of the middle part of life.  

There were exceptions; a year at the local college to see what they knew;  the break from working a regular job to train for a career change;  several months of unemployment following the economic reversal of 2008.  

But the rest of the time I took my daily marching orders from clocks and calendars.  The drill varied little; the Monday through Friday get-up, the hour to leave home for work, start time of the job, buzzers or chimes announcing morning and afternoon break periods, electronic reminders of meeting times, appointments, deadlines, repeated day by day, week by week.

A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!

The Red Queen’s race
Lewis Carroll‘s Through the Looking-Glass

An author I often read has a number of things to say about perspective.  In one piece, he writes of the more typical elements of life; education, marriage (and divorce), buying (and selling) houses and cars, relocations, job changes, career changes, kids, families. He characterizes many of us as doing life on full afterburners, trying to fit in more, trying to make up for lost time.  In a conversation with his trusted friend, it was suggested that the main thing he needed to do was to stop doing.  He needed to slow down.  Asking how much he should slow down, it was suggested that he take everything he was doing, cut it in half, then do half of the remainder.  

Turns out that may apply equally to me.  

Two years ago, I began a transition away from strict attention to time and routine.  The ingrained response to morning has receded.  Discipline reinforced by years of repetition is releasing its grasp.   The life so long practiced has been suspended.  The commute, the office, the work, the people, the pace, the hustle, the imperative to plan, do, check, act (cf. Deming Cycle)… these have begun to fade.

I used to imagine that the opening up of unfilled amounts of time would present me with an empty vessel in need of filling.  The reality has been rather different.  

With many of the markers which have defined time either reduced or removed, I have become aware of fine cracks opening up in my perception.  The withdrawal of specific times/dates/sequences/actions/places has allowed a retreat from their compressing forces.  

Enter a new term in my awareness: time affluence.

A report published last year by Age Wave (“…the nation’s foremost thought leader on issues relating to an aging population”) entitled Leisure in Retirement: Beyond the Bucket List contains this statement:  “As boomers retire from a workaholic culture, they will swell the ranks of Americans in this ‘time affluent’ stage of life.

The Age Wave piece says their data shows new retirees transitioning out of the workforce are having a pretty good time.  It seems not everyone wishes they were still working, or pursuing some endeavor with the same energy and structure they brought to their careers.  

To the contrary, many are finding this to be a time of “new beginnings” and an “entirely new state of mind”.  (emphasis mine)

Ken Dychtwald, CEO of Age Wave, writes in the report that many new retirees are saying: ‘Finally, I can do what I want, when I want and on my own terms. That’s what I’ve been dreaming of my whole life.’

Certainly, I wondered what this time of life would hold.  It turns out I completely failed to grasp it in advance.  Like most, I wondered if we’d have enough money.  Beyond that, I couldn’t sit right down on what retirement might be like.  To my surprise, an important part of it is an entirely new state of mind, one I could not have comprehended beforehand.  

My personal transition out of compression has led to the deceptive simplicity of the present moment.  The sustained quietude, found only in the moment, brings about the ability to notice, to observe in spaciousness, without the imposition or insistence of hours, days, schedules, responsibilities or obligations.  In this state I am able to find attentiveness, observation, reflection, awareness without judgment, without bias, without preconception.  

This is a time of being, not doing.  

What has emerged is reality, my reality, unmasked, without filters from that other existence, that part of life recently concluded.  

A therapist of my acquaintance once offered a question which I could ask myself, whenever I needed to check my guidance system; “Where am I with myself right now?”

The state created by the asking of that question presents an opportunity to notice.  I notice that I am where my feet are.  I notice that which is present.  I notice the reality which exists in each moment.  As I remain still, I see that it holds all.  I move away from fixed points of reference, into openness.  Pulling back the lens of my perception, I begin to see a wider view, one less defined than before, a spacious place, where old information loosens it hold, where new information may be admitted.  If I am diligent, if I can conjure up this state, remain in the moment, I am that much closer to my reality, to see that it is so, and to accept it for what it is.

The adjunct to the mantra offered by the therapist becomes “what am I to do in this moment?”, not in some circumstance of my past, nor of my imagined future, unknowable as it is, but right now.  I tend to start each day open to receive guidance and direction, not for my future, not even for the day, but for the moment where I find myself, the moment where reality exists.

I find my experience and my perspective shifting, slowly at first, but surely, inexorably.  Reality lives in the space created by this shift, as well as a freedom of a kind I could not have imagined.  

This is another day.
I don’t know what it will bring
For I have not scheduled anything.
If I am to sit still,
Help me to sit quietly.
If I am to rest,
Help me rest patiently.
And if I am to do nothing,
Help me do it serenely.


This entry was posted in Essay, Personal Essay and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Being, not doing

  1. Jenifer Hunter says:

    I have always loved the way you write. This is no exception.

    On Fri, Aug 18, 2017 at 5:06 AM, The Gradual Day wrote:

    > thegradualday posted: “de·com·pres·sion dēkəmˈpreSH(ə)n/ noun a release of > compressing forces The door to my bedroom in the house where I grew up was > at the top of the stairs. My window faced the street. In summer, the > first light of morning seeped in around the edges of” >

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