Like the vast majority of parents, I’m always doing something. I think I’ve forgotten what it means to properly relax. Not sitting-down-with-a-beer-in-front-of-the-football relaxing. Or ten-minutes-with-a-cuppa-before-picking-up-the-kids relaxing. I mean turning-off-completely-and-not-doing-or-thinking-about-anything relaxing.
Can you even remember the last time you did that?
I don’t know about you but I spend all my waking hours doing stuff. Work. Family. Blog. Podcast. And if I’m not doing one thing, I’m thinking about something else. Have we signed the latest set of school forms? Did I send that email to set up that meeting next week? Heck, the other night Heather and I were mapping out a rough itinerary for another European family road trip next August.
And even the fleeting moments of down-time in my day are soon filled up. There are photos to edit for Instagram, witty tweets to compose, Facebook to check …
Busy, busy, busy.
A couple of Fridays ago, however, I had the best part of two hours in which I did … nothing. They were the two most productive hours of my week.
I’m type 2 diabetic which means I have to have regular tests and check-ups. One of these is an annual eye screening test to check for damage in the blood vessels around the retina. Eye drops are used to make your pupils dilate wide enough to take a picture of the back of your eye.
The upshot is that you can’t see properly for the next three to four hours. Daylight is too bright for comfort and you can’t focus properly. So, no driving, no watching TV, no books and – most terrifying of all – no smartphone. (No work email either – so, upside!)
So there I was at home, alone, with nothing to do other than wait for my vision to return. Peace and quiet. TV off. Phone set aside. Laptop closed.
I can’t remember the last time I spent time like this, just me and my thoughts.
For the first 20 minutes or so my mind was spinning in high gear, compiling lists I would quickly forget, planning the weekend, all the usual sort of stuff.
And then, finally, I relaxed.
It’s a strange sensation at first. You feel like there’s something wrong; something missing. If you’ve ever been anywhere in splendid isolation, with no one around and no sign of life anywhere, no car noises, no buzzing of electricity cables overhead and even no birdsong, you will know what I mean. The complete absence of day-to-day life is first disconcerting and then soothing.
It was the same here. That moment when your head finally empties itself of conscious thought and then allows the whispering voices of your subconscious to emerge from the shadows.
The dramatist in me would like to say that at this point I had a sudden, searing moment of clarity, like a fog lifting to reveal the next chapter of my life. I’d like to say that – but I would be lying.
However, what did happen was that clearing my head afforded me an all too rare moment of reflection. It opened up the space to resolve a couple of questions that had been floating in the back of my mind for weeks. Half a dozen ideas for blog or podcast content suddenly appeared. And fragments of a long forgotten song started echoing in my head. Okay, that last one wasn’t particularly useful but it was a nice memory to have.
Is this what happens when people meditate? When you put the baggage of everyday life to one side and allow your brain to chart its own course, rather than forcing it to deal with the average day’s million-and-one problems in the fastest and most efficient way?
If so, maybe I should meditate more – or at the very least take more time to switch off from all the demands of modern life and just reflect. Sometimes we need to stop looking so hard so that we can separate the wood from the trees. Sometimes we need to be blind before we can truly see.
So that’s the challenge for me going forward: make more time for myself to switch off and have genuine, uninterrupted thinking time. That’s a challenge when you have three demanding kids – but it has to be worth the effort. I reckon I would benefit a lot from it. Wouldn’t you?