Tuesday, September 5, 2017

How we spend our days

"How we spend our days, of course, is how we spend our lives," wrote Annie Dillard. When I first read that a couple of years ago, I felt a small panic rise inside me. I was always worried that I was wasting my life, and then I worried I was wasting it on worry. I resolved to not worry, at least not so much.

I remembered that line again while changing my bed yesterday evening, as I was stuffing pillows into frayed pink pillowcases. I noticed my pillows were starting to look yellow and as I was trying to remember when I bought them, I suddenly became irritated that they needed replacing so soon.

A couple of months ago, I'd read on a website that you need to replace your pillows every three months. That evening, I found the mere thought of it exhausting: Every three months, you need to consider pillows. You are supposed to do this four times a year for as long as you live, or for as long as you choose to have pillows, which is pretty much the same thing for me.

One of the disappointments adulthood brought me was the work of maintenance. I loved the concept of continuous improvement, of walking steadily and even slowly on an upward path, but maintenance was like treading water. Part of me found it unfair.

The way I saw it, you reach a goal, even one as small as owning a pillow, and that should be enough, any work related to it forever crossed off your to-do list, never needing to be revisited in order for you to stay where you are, as you are. Movement was for improvement, not status quo.

This is how my brain works, and this is why mindfulness appeals to me. It's still a struggle to be in the present (especially when you know that four months after buying a pillow, you need to repeat the same process all over again, and again), but it has been helping me a lot.

So, as I finished putting my pillows in pillowcases, I took a deep breath and told myself, "I am making my bed. I have pillows." It was enough, for the moment.

I'm still slow to accept that life is a lot of maintenance work, but I'm getting there. Some of the work, like nurturing relationships, are always tiring but enjoyable for me. Some of the work, like working through differences with people, is hard and exhausting. And some of the work, like replacing pillows, can seem so meaningless, but it's work you are glad you did when you rest your tired head on a fluffy pillow at night.

Being mindful is important. And so is intention. To go back to the metaphor of treading water (which is actually a poor one for me, because I don't swim) the most I can do is be intentional about the bodies of water I immerse myself in. And I remind myself constantly that I love a nice bed with soft, clean pillows and that I am willing to do the maintenance work that requires.