taking a break

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This week’s detox is all about taking time out – about being able to be present during the times when you’re with people, and being able take the space to be refreshed at other times.  And it was something I very much need to hear.  None of it is anything I have any intellectual problem with – I know taking a break is important. I know that for me taking a break from physically being around people is important, otherwise I will want to kill them all… Taking the mental space from my day-to-day life, however, is something I have got worse at over time.  It was a challenge to me at the beginning of the year 

When I was doing my PhD it was something I was generally really good at.  I used to work, Monday to Friday, roughly 8:30 to 6:00, and then I’d tootle home and find something to cook.  At the weekends I’d clean the house, catch up on TV, go to the beach, read the newpaper, take some photos, spend time with friends, go to church, etc etc.  I might spend a couple of hours reading something indirectly related to my work (or fictional – but honestly, when you read and write full time all the time, you don’t actually do a lot of it for relaxation) or photocopy things or do busywork.  The only time things really spiralled out of control was during the last six months, when I was travelling to conferences and to various other places, and just slogging away through the final pieces trying not to go insane.  Even then, I usually managed to take the evenings out – using the need to eat as a way of taking time out and cooking, which let me use the other bits of my brain. Admittedly, by the end it, I was pretty much only capable of making stir fry and watching High School Musical because anything else was too strenous – but I still, just about, managed to rest.  

And I’m pretty sure that’s the only reason I got through it.  Taking space from the noise of the world around us makes our lives make sense; rest gives us perspective on our lives and work – on what really matters – and refreshes us for the upcoming period.   As Powley points out – God rested, and enjoyed what he had done. If we believe in a creator God, then we have to believe that rest and enjoyment of the fruits of our labours is something we’re supposed to do.  We’ll live best – most happily, most peacably, if we live lifes that have a rhythm that underlies all the things that change all of the time (work, opportunities to go to events etc) – if we have patterns and habits that mark out our lives and guide our choices. That doesn’t even have to be about ‘duty’ – the sense of ‘oh, I ought to take some time out’. If we’re used to taking time out, we’ll actively want to do it and we’ll choose to do it, the majority of the time, often in the face of ‘more exciting’ options.

Nowadays, however, I find myself running all over the place most of the time. Even on my ‘days off’ I am busy – going places to do and see things, or people.  It makes me question what counts as rest.  But what is rest – is, say, reading Consumer Detox part of my rest? It’s not part of my working life (except, it’s sort of connected to it). If we are fortunate enough to be working in a job that really engages our passions, it’s that much harder to make the distinction between what we do ‘as work’ and what we do ‘for ourselves’.  Perhaps that’s not so important a distinction – perhaps what is important is taking a break from the things that are hanging over us as deadlines and projects on the ‘to do’ list. Clearly, for me, turning off my brain isn’t the way that I rest most of the time, and reading Zizek is a break from the norm of my work days… 

It’s not like I don’t enjoy taking time out, as well as being aware that I need it…  I would happily spend my weekends hanging out in coffee shops or by lakes, rivers or beaches with a beer, with books, notebooks or friends.  It’s just that it’s hard, right now, to make that ‘rest’ actually restful. Part of that is a lack of discipline in consuming information and knowledge – I am very bad at switching off from the 24-7 information stream in case I miss out on something that I need know or might need to do. I mean, clearly, I’m indispensible to the rest of the world, right?  Part of that is about where I live.  At university ‘rest’ was easier because I was part of a community – of people, and in a close geographical space, and I had a home base I was comfortable with.  My life had a rhythm, without being dull or habitual. It was easy to spontaneously go out with people or have people over, if I didn’t just want to sprawl out on the sofa.  

These aren’t qualities that apply to my life in London, where I really don’t have a rhythm. Some of the things is fixable – like my living abode.  One of the reasons I’m always out and abode is that I don’t always feel ‘at home’ at home.  I could move: there are limitations and it would take some time, sure, but that is a choice and a change I’m largely in control of.  Some things will take time – like becoming a part of a community, which is something I’m slowly doing. Some of it will never change – like the geography.  It is a fact that even getting to my church takes me 15-20minutes and involves public transport. My closest friends are a 45 minute journey away, or we’ll travel to meet each other somewhere else.  Going out to hang out and relax becomes somewhat less relaxing the minute you have to factor in transiting through Waterloo stations… That is not a place where you enjoy life… 

There is a simple fact, which is that – for me – London is too big and full of too much. It was actually something that I knew by the time I’d been living in it for about 3 months.  I don’t want to live here for ever. Part of the stuff that I have to work out is how I get to move out of the city – and not to the home counties, which for me are even more suffocating – and still work in a job that I love.  But that’s not going to come quickly. I’m going to be here for a while – so in the meantime, I need to create some good habits.  Ideas on a postcard. 

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