This is a backdated post from October 11th, 2017
Two wild turkeys slowly pecked their way across the wooded area outside Serenity’s window, finding their breakfast bit by bit amidst the undergrowth of the forest floor. It took them several hours, and I was in a reverie watching them.
Have you ever felt like you are doing exactly what you need to do for the good of your soul, you know, something that just feels exactly right, peaceful, perfect, and then guilt takes over and you stop yourself? I have. A lot lately.
This journey is about getting back to the fundamentals of what makes a good life, but so often those aren’t very impressive things, or very many things in a day, and so I find ways, even in the van, to stay—somewhat—busy. But this time I didn’t let the guilt win.
Sitting at the window, watching the turkeys, I felt entirely at peace, happy, calm, fascinated by the absolutely uninteresting, undramatic scene slowly unfolding with no plot, no mounting tension, no building to a climax, no story at all, just two turkeys eating and walking. Step and peck. Step and peck. Peck and step.
And then the guilt.
“You have work to do.”
“I’m ahead of schedule, don’t get on my case, I came out here to practice mindfulness.”
“Fine, be mindful, write in your journal. Or write some postcards. You wanted to stay in touch, too, right?”
“But the turkeys are beautiful.”
“You didn’t come out here to watch nature through a window. Go outside and take a walk.”
“That will disturb the turkeys and they will go away.”
“They’ll be fine. Go outside, or read a book, learn something. At least do something. You’re wasting time.”
Wasting time. Yeah, I’ve wasted so much time in my life by being productive, that I don’t know how not to be productive anymore.
But productive is just a proxy for feeling the thrill of accomplishment, and busy is a proxy for productive, so I can feel good about myself. But keeping busy isn’t necessarily the same as being productive or accomplishing worthwhile things; it just feels similar enough to do the trick.
So I keep busy. And placidly watching turkeys at a window is wasting time. Not conducive to correctly answering the daily question “Did I have a good day?” Because “Did I have a good day?” really means, “Did I do enough today to feel good about myself?” And the answer needs to be a laundry list of things I did. It doesn’t much matter what those things actually are, or how big or trivial, important or merely time-consuming. The longer the list, the better the day was.
Lately I’ve heard myself, as I settle down for the night, thinking, “I got a lot done today, it was a good day.” And I do this all the time. Have for years. It has driven me to succeed and to accomplish great things, and it has caused me a lot of unnecessary stress and pushed me to strive for accomplishment when I knew I couldn’t handle it, or when it wasn’t even something I wanted to accomplish.
But I needed to accomplish something to feel good about myself. To feel like I had a good day today, and yesterday, and the day before, so I could look back and not feel like I’m wasting my life. Never mind that I have been accomplishing in the wrong direction for years, focused as I was on looking back and not forward. Thinking I am looking forward and getting ahead.
Intending to be mindful doesn’t make me mindful instantly, I’m sorry to say, just as being on this journey doesn’t automatically change decades of bad mental habits. But it does interrupt the pattern of habits enough to give me a chance to notice the scripts I have been following. And to choose to write a new script.
So today I planted myself at a window and wrestled with my demons and did what I needed to do. Which was next to nothing. And it was a good day.
As for tomorrow? No promises. But I will try to have a day that is good, not merely productive.
Do you also wrestle with this trap of staying busy? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments below.