(photo credit: Part time by Nancy <I’m gonna SNAP on flickr.com. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode.)
We rush through our days, which means we rush through our lives.
But we get stuff done. Right?
I stopped to talk to my neighbor yesterday as I was returning from walking my dog. Her two year old boy was singing and talking to himself as he made his way up another neighbor’s walkway and to their door. After a few minutes, he galloped over to his big wheel-type toy and pedaled his way to another neighbor’s lawn, where he sat down and lectured the grass about something extremely important.
My neighbor, who had a watchful eye on her kid but let him do his thing, pointed to another neighbor, a woman a few years her junior, planting flowers in front of her house. “I just joked with [my husband] that I think I remember doing things like that. Then I said I was going to warn her to enjoy her free time now, because as soon as you have children, it disappears.”
She didn’t say this with regret but in a tone not that different from my own when I responded. “It’s true, but this time disappears in a heartbeat. Next thing you know, they’re busy with their friends and driving and going off to college.”
I continued by telling her how I loved to listen to her little boy playing in the backyard (our backyards abut one another) and how it makes me realize how much I miss watching and playing with my daughters at those young ages, as they explored their small worlds and took a deep interest in everything around them, from the prickly leaves on a bush to the sound of a jet engine overhead.
While my neighbor reminisced about the freedom she lost, I reminisced about the beauty of her current situation. When my kids were that young, I did indulge in watching them and being with them, but I also spent a lot of time rushing them and getting frustrated with them because we were late for Kindermusik or a doctor’s appointment, or we needed to run errands or do any number of things that took them away from whatever activity they were in the middle of doing. And if they’d gotten themselves dirty, I’d have to stop them sooner for clean-up and clean clothes, which may have led to me scolding them because I wasn’t sure if I was going to get the stains out and they’d added to my workload and now we were going to be late.
It was always a struggle to remove them from the fun they had made, but it had to be done. We had planned activities. Other people were expecting us to be somewhere at a certain time.
Looking back, I’m not so sure that those things had to be done. Or at least had to be done at the exact minute or even hour. And the kids certainly didn’t need to be scolded because I wanted to move things along, get through the day, do things as I’d planned. I imagine what it would have been like if instead of hurrying them along, I’d let go of the have-to-do stuff and explored with them or simply watched as they went about their “work.”
I could have learned from watching them do things slowly and deliberately. I could have chosen also to do things slowly and deliberately, instead of always trying to get to the next thing on time. And now, I wish I had, because that time that I spent moving things along could have been spent enjoying them and watching them discover the world. We could have missed a Kindermusik class or managed to make supper without going to the grocery store. We could have stood in the middle of lawn, looking up and marveling at how planes can fly and make lines in the sky.
There are times, now, when I do my work, whether it is writing or making dinner or planting a garden, speedily instead of attentively because I have so much to do. When I take that approach, the work becomes tedious and chore-like. But when I take my time, give myself over fully to whatever I am doing, I find that I am happy in the moment and I am not thinking about what comes next.
And despite my anxiety that I’m failing to accomplish all that needs to be accomplished, when I take the time to act slowly and deliberately, I realize that the only time one needs to think about the next thing is once it becomes the current thing, the thing I am doing now. Slowly and deliberately.
[This is the second post in a short series about Zen Things. If you’d like to see the list of Zen Things or read the first post, “Do One Thing At A Time,” click here.]
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