If I’m brutally honest this is me: I have a demanding job and work long hours. I have a young and demanding family who I love dearly. I live in a frantic city. There are not enough hours in my day. I don’t spend enough quality time with my children or my wife. I’m too often tired and tetchy and distracted to enjoy my life. My days are blurred and rushed and making me unhappy, unwell and stressed. The rut I find myself in is of my own making, and it’s making me an ineffective, grumpy and distant husband and dad and an inefficient, unfocused and distracted worker.
And this is a short quote from my personal Journal of 23.12.13:
Two events today made me realise that I need to STOP, draw breath, focus and, with luck, survive to fight enjoy another day.
One was Fin giving me a drawing of a smiling figure in a small boat and beaming ‘It’s you daddy! In the drawing he’d captured the person I aspire to be, but it felt a million miles from who I currently am.
The second was in the wet hassle of a Christmas Oxford Street.
For years I’ve had the habit of Christmas shopping against the ticking clock. With the efficiency of a military operation I’d picture what I wanted to buy – usual 13 or 14 pictures if I’m honest – and away I’d merrily go, intoxicated by the bright lights and the crowds, and get the job done. Arriving home footsore and satisfied that Mammon had been served for another year.
This year was different.
This year I went in to town as usual, but the magic failed. This year I didn’t find Christmas. The stores dizzied me. In one department store I could feel tears welling up, and I couldn’t hold them back. A panic attack set in.
And no, this isn’t a glib description of a man’s panic when forced to shop! Far from it in fact, as I’ve always prided myself on and enjoyed getting the right gifts. No, this was something darker, and potentially far more dangerous. I felt lost and confused, cast adrift and close to tears. I left Oxford Street as quickly as I could, swallowing down calming breaths, in through the nose, hold 1- 2 – 3… and slowly out through the mouth 5 – 6 – 7…
When you pride yourself on your solutions-focused and ‘can do’ attitude it comes as a shock when things unravel. Yet it also confirmed what I’d suspected for a while, that I need to stop taking things for granted, that I needed to take stock, and take seriously just how debilitated and unhappy I’ve become, and how deeply it’s affecting everyone around me, both at home and at work.
Now I’m not one for some kind of superficial Sunday Supplement quick fix, I don’t want a veneer solution wrapped up in a New Year’s resolution, what I’m looking for is a means to – put simply – increase what does me (and those around me) some good and reduce what does me (and those around me) some harm.
I suspect I’m no different to most people in that I pretty much know what makes me feel happy, and what makes me feel more contented and complete, and I know what hurts me too.
Essentially what I need to do is to slow down and find time to notice, to think, and to enjoy. I recognise that living a slower and more focused life will be difficult as the fast life surrounds me.
Let’s be clear I’m not seeking to lock myself away or devalue what the modern world has to offer, far from it, I love the opportunities and experiences the modern world has provided me. It doesn’t even mean I won’t eat the odd MacDonalds meal, but what it does mean is that I aim to take the time to linger over food, over conversations with friends and over time with my family. It seems to me if I slow down I have a better chance of re-connecting with the essential, often simpler things of life.
To be simplistic, I feel that what’ll be helpful is to pay greater attention to life, on purpose, and in a systematic way.
To slow things down won’t be about being lazy; rather my aim is to get more out of what I do, to simplify, savour and celebrate the moment, the people and places; to plan less and enjoy life and the world at a gentler pace.