‘It’s like sitting on a time-bomb’, Sheryl says. We were talking about the final days of pregnancy, and she’s right – that’s exactly how it feels. I know that nature will take its course, but I don’t know where, how or when. And however much I’m trying to trust in the world and enjoy the journey, I have to admit that I’m not very comfortable with this out-of-control feeling at all.
What’s happening in my life just now should be the most natural thing in the world. It’s just that, through a constant whirl of commuting, working, parenting, house-keeping – not to mention the goals I set myself for running, walking and swimming – I’ve become accustomed to living around a ‘to-do’ list. Why not, after all: in a busy world of competing demands and priorities, it makes sense to plan out each day; to fill every moment with a schedule of activity that is quantifiably purposeful and measure success in a series of ticked boxes. Until you arrive at a situation like this, where a to-do list doesn’t help and the only answer is to let go and accept life as it comes. And perhaps that’s no bad thing.
It’s made me realise that, over the past week or two, the times when I’ve felt at my best – when, in fact, I’ve felt more like ‘me’ than I can remember feeling for a long time – are the rare moments when I’ve allowed my to-do list to be out of sight and mind.
It dawned on me today that I’ve fallen into a habit of doing only what I deem ‘useful’. Even when I’m out walking or running, I’ll rarely grant myself the time to explore a new path; to pause long enough to spot the woodpecker I hear in the trees; or simply to stop and absorb a view. Out walking in the woods this morning, I did those things and felt the richer for it. But more often, I’ll keep pressing on through, mind on the next task on the list, conscious of the clock ticking.
I realise that I’m losing the knack of doing things for the pure simple joy of it and allowing a whim to trump a timetable every once in a while. And that when everything is reduced to its measure of usefulness, nothing has much purpose any more.
People lose their way when they lose their why – Michael Hyatt
From a training run to a trip to the swings, I plan my days to accommodate the demands I feel on my time and energy. Everything is routinely weighed up against everything else, with a logical reason to justify its place on the day’s list. That kind of planning is a great way of ticking off a bundle of whats, whens and hows, and finishing each day with a sense of a job well done. It’s also a great way of dodging a missing ‘why’.
I’m beginning to suspect that my preoccupation with usefulness has obscured a big, unanswered question that has ‘why’ at the heart of it – and that until I stop to answer it, my days will always be full but may never be fulfilling. And times like the present – times when the lists won’t work and there’s no choice but to trust in the world and let nature take its course – will always feel uncomfortable or downright scary. So I’m resolving to practice that lost art of letting go. To make the time to experience, not simply to do. And I suspect that this is another of those things that my to-do list just won’t help with …