Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The stress of finding calm

Yesterday I had one of those rare experiences of feeling something long-forgotten but familiar as a part of who I am.  The sort of feeling you get in dreams when you recognise something which then disappears and in dreams is often not a real thing.  Intangible.  Almost (though hopefully not entirely, or what would be the point of starting this blog post) beyond words.  And in this case not a dream and therefore, I think, real.

I was gardening.  Well, yes, I've always gardened.  Since I've been working the long hours and long weeks of a full-time artist, though, the front garden has been more or less abandoned (see previous post) and it has just been my vegetable plot that I've kept going. 

So what was different?  I was suddenly aware not just of feeling happy to be gardening (which I have often felt) but also connected, to the plot, the plants, the processes and most of all to a part of myself which has been missing for some years.

I'd decided to spend the week catching up with non-work things.  This is a short week for me, coming as it does between two weekends away with travelling on Monday and Friday.  What I was doing in the garden, therefore, was exactly what I was meant to be doing.  I just worked at a pace suitable for my back, taking breaks and changes of occupation at sensible intervals and doing things that needed to be done without worrying about getting them all done in any particular time frame.  This is different because, although gardening was my only leisure activity for many years (before I began to pick up with reading again), at some unconscious level it mostly didn't feel like what I was meant be doing because there was an idea that work was what I should be doing all the time. 

I knew and felt that it was essential to my mental well-being to be in touch with the soil and the plants and set aside time for that whenever I could. But that time was necessarily limited, and therefore had a constant stress built in to it - to make the most of it, to use it well, to achieve as much as I could in it and ...  well, you see how it goes.  On an admittedly very small scale, there was a stress in finding calm.

I think this paradox is probably present in many of our lives. We learn we should "set aside time" for leisure, for family, for friends and for ourselves and sometimes we are successful in that.  But if what we are making time for is something to de-stress us?  It's like lying awake at night, worrying that you're short of sleep and will find the next day a struggle if you don't go back to sleep right now - guaranteed to have the opposite effect.

So how have I regained this bit of my old self that is calm, and connected to the earth and myself?  I think it's because I have managed, most of the time, to put aside the knowledge that I am still a couple of months off being able to produce much-needed pottery stock.  I get on with my work as and when and sometimes notice how much I've done, with pleasure, but this year I've avoided thinking too much about the things I haven't done. 

What I've learned is that calm results from changing your life to make time and space not from setting aside a calm time.  It might have to be drastic.  Deciding I'm now working part-time did and sometimes still does feel a fairly drastic step.  But it's worth it.  The feeling hasn't gone away.

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