Two weeks ago, as I was pulling out of my driveway on a weekend trip, I got a phone call. It was my weekend boss, stating he no longer needed me to work. My husband, who had been called away on a wildfire the night before, was not going to be there, and my hiking partner canceled. ‘No need to leave for the weekend,’ I thought, ‘What am I going to do now?’. Immediately I was filled with a sense of freedom and space.
In the fast paced society we live in, an empty planner is a problem for none. It is unfathomable to have a free afternoon, let alone a whole day to do what we please. If there is a day available, we quickly pack in activities as if we are scared of what might happen if there was a moment in which we could just be.
This cycle of doing limits our ability to be present and attend to our needs. The automatic and habitual tendency to overbook ourselves allows us to ignore what is happening in the body and mind, and brings our focus to the external world, creating pain. This pain, which is sometimes directed at the self, leads us to believe we are somehow not enough or deficient.
But how can the cycle of doing be broken? The answer, a focus on free time. Specifically, not filling up free time with more activities. Sitting down, my new hobby, and enjoying not doing anything. This sounds simple, non-doing, but it isn’t something I do often. Allowing myself to sit down, relax my mind, letting go of tension in my shoulders and face, and putting my feet up creates space. Space I didn’t know existed.
When practicing this over the course of a week, I felt as though I found a secret paradise where there were no worries, no expectations, and no stress. The space I found called me throughout the day, allowing me to be in the moment, awake, alive, and most importantly, relaxed.
To find more free time in your everyday life you may find it helpful to ask yourself these questions, as they helped me greatly in my own life:
- What activities need to get done?
- What activities do I want to do?
- What would happen if I wasn’t constantly doing?
- Who would I be disappointing by not doing these activities?
- What do I have to gain from prioritizing and letting go?
The eleventh verse in the Tao Te Ching reminds me of this lesson.
We join spokes together in a wheel,
but it is the center hole
that makes the wagon move.
We shape clay into a pot,
but it is the emptiness inside
that holds whatever we want.
We hammer wood for a house,
but it is the inner space
that makes it livable.
We work with being,
but non-being is what we use.