Time, what we want most

Yesterday it dawned on me that, if I’m lucky and if my family history is anything to go by, I have perhaps another 30 years on this planet; if I’m not lucky, I could die tomorrow… or today. Thirty years to do all the things I would like to do. It is not a huge amount of time.

It is said that there are those who find the time to do the things they want to do, and those who make excuses for failing to find the time. From today, I’m planning on being one of the former. If I can find a way to squeeze a little bit more into my day, I will. Without realising it, I’ve already started. All those books I’ve been meaning to read forever – I’ve started to download them to my Kindle and the time I spend on trams, trains and buses, going to and from work, is now spent reading. Learning German and Russian has been on top of my list for a very long time; downloading Duolingo to my phone means I can spend twenty minutes or so each day learning vocabulary and simple phrases.

However, I’ve also decided that the short time I have left is better spent doing things which excite me, or teach me, or enthuse me; rather than the things which are merely dull or repetitive. Of course, I still must work but I can also ensure that part of each day is spent in an activity which I enjoy. It might be something as minor as reading a book, or researching a subject which interests me or cooking some new recipe; or it could be as exciting as travelling to a new destination, going to a show, or enjoying the company of friends. Instead of a bucket list, I’m going to think of this as my daily list.

Today, I’m off to attend several events at the Melbourne Writers Festival. I selected each of these events as they pertain either to my writing, or my family or both. I’m looking forward to learning new things and considering old knowledge from a new perspective. I’m looking forward to the buzz of a festival, the friends I’ll catch up with and the chance to meet people who are as interested in writing as I am.

And tomorrow… I will be reading new books and enjoying my weekly Kundalini yoga session. I will also start planning for each of my future daily lists. Suddenly, I’m feeling energised.

In the words of William Penn, “Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.” I hope I begin to use my remaining time well.

The Right Time to Write

This weekend I discovered what I believe is my optimum time of day to write. I didn’t plan this discovery, it was totally accidental.

I’m a creature of habit and routine. I wake up and practice a morning meditation. Then I perform a few exercises while still in bed. My meditation practice began as a way to try to reduce stress and has become a ritual I look forward to. I started the exercises to alleviate a bout of sciatica and have continued them in the hope of preventing a return.

Yesterday, I finished my routine and, for some unknown reason, decided to turn on my computer. I was still in pajamas, I hadn’t eaten breakfast. Lately my computer has had a mind of its own, sometimes turning on immediately, sometimes taking a rather long time to wake up. Yesterday it sprang into action immediately.

Taking this as a portent of good things to come, I opened the manuscript I have been working on for over five years. The major rewriting I’m undertaking started over a year ago and I was floundering in the middle of chapter two. I kid you not.

So, there I was still in pajamas, with a belly beginning to complain from lack of sustenance, and my fingers flew over the keyboard. Within an hour I’d completed the second chapter. Another hour saw me half way through the third. The third hour I spent reading and revising what I’d written. Finally, I showered and cooked breakfast. I felt amazing. And not once had I checked my emails or surfed the net looking for inspiration or distraction.

This morning I tried the same routine again, with the same results. The challenge for me will be trying to include some time for writing on work days. Unless I decide to limit writing time to weekends. Trial and error might just be the way to go.

I’ve discovered a few other writers who practice their craft in the early mornings. Ernest Hemingway was one, “When I am working on a book or a story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write.” Don DeLillo also began the day writing, “I work in the morning at a manual typewriter. I do about four hours and then go running.” Haruki Murakami has a repetitive writing routine, “When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at 4am and work for five or six hours.” William Gibson, Maya Angelou and Anaϊs Nin were all morning writers. It looks as if I am in good company. I can only hope some of their brilliance will rub off on me just from adopting their routine.

What time of day do you write?

Stillness

In the midst of movement and chaos, keep stillness inside you. Deepak Chopra

I’m learning to be still. It isn’t easy for me. I’m the sort of person who tries to multi-task, who leaps from one thing to another, perhaps not physically but almost always mentally. I will begin writing and rewriting my manuscript, or reading or sorting through daily tasks such as paying bills and my mind will wander, skipping to the next chapter or book or job until I can no longer concentrate on what I’m doing. Open a computer in front of me and I will leap from website to website, reading a bit here and a bit there. I might begin to sort the laundry and become distracted by cleaning out my wardrobe, or organizing my jewellery. I am rarely without noise in my life. At home I have the television on whether I’m watching it or not. Or I turn on music, or listen to podcasts. Going to work there is the noise of the traffic. At work the office hums with voices and telephones.

So, at the beginning of the year, I decided it was time to learn the skill of stillness. And it is a skill. For someone who has always been on the move, flitting from one thing to another, surrounded by sound, stillness and silence is an effort.

For nearly a year I have begun every day by meditating. On work day mornings I have little time, so my meditation is short, a mere five minutes. On weekends I always double that, sometimes even triple it. I have a meditation app on my phone with a timer. It has several recorded meditations but I prefer to set the timer and do it myself. For the last few weeks, I have been working through a self-guided chakra meditation each morning.

Travelling to work by public transport gives me the opportunity to catch up on my reading. As it is not possible to change books or pick up other tasks on a tram or train, I have to focus on what I’m reading. Sometimes I read for information; self-help books or books which contain research for my writing, and sometimes I read for pleasure; mostly crime novels. I love this time, alone among others, lost in stories. Around me there might be noise, but within me there is stillness.

In the evenings, I’ve resisted the urge to turn on the television or the computer as soon as I walk in the door. I try to spend some time unwinding, changing into more comfortable clothes, shaking the work of the day from my shoulders. Often I will pause to watch the world pass by my window.

I find cooking very relaxing. Preparing the evening meal, chopping fresh vegetables, and then bringing flavours together to create something tasty is a way for me to de-stress. I still haven’t worked out how to make the decision of what to cook less stressful!

Right now the world around us is chaotic and often beyond comprehension. I hope that by learning to be still, I will become more resilient and less prone to stress.