For the past couple of months, I have been largely in what a friend of mine calls “cave time,” that is, time when you turn inward and live in your inner world rather than participating so much in the outer world, or as some might say, “the real world.”
I’ve had a lot of good insights into myself, my path, and life in general during this time, as well as a lot of “What on Earth have I done all day??” moments. That was part of the lesson I learned during this time.
We often feel in our go-go-go, work-work-work, now-now-now society that “just being” is just a polite way of saying “lazy,” and of course, being “lazy” is “bad.” We’ve got that masochistic work ethic drilled into us so much that the idea of “rest” is foreign and to be sneered at. I’ve had this theme become rather ubiquitous in my life as of late. Someone I follow on Google+ – or was it Facebook? – commented one day how it was brought to their attention when they had shared an update that they were taking a “lazy Sunday” and just resting and relaxing. One of their friends had commented “Don’t make a habit out of it.” Why not make a habit out of it? They wondered. Isn’t that the idea behind the weekend? The sabbath?
Remember that notion? One day a week where it was religiously mandated to relax and live in your inner world and commune with a higher power. Why is that now “bad”?
I was browsing Kindle books a little while ago and found this gem I had never heard of before: “The Right To Be Lazy” by Paul Lafargue (Karl Marx’s son). I’m not done with it yet, but in it he talks about how historically “work” was something to be scorned by free people, and how being free from work spawned a lot of great philosophies and discoveries, such as in ancient Greece. Back then, the work was foisted onto slaves, but now we have machines that can do much of this work for us (and keep in mind, this book was written around the turn of the 20th century, so this holds even more true today than it did then). So why didn’t automation become a way for people to work less and have more free time and still have enough to get by? Why did our society develop the way it did, with “workaholics” and overtime galore, or even if you didn’t want to live that way, feeling pressured to perform thusly or risk losing your income? Why did automation become a “threat” to our livelihood rather than a blessing? Why didn’t EVERYONE benefit from these technologies, instead of just stockholders and CEOs? And why do CEOs continue to work so much, despite being filthy rich? If you won millions of dollars in the lottery, wouldn’t you quit your job and do what you wanted (say, travel around the world or volunteer or hobbies or whatever it is you like to do)? These guys win the paycheck lottery every year but they keep working 80 hour weeks, instead of quitting after a while and living a comfortable life. Instead of passing the torch for someone else to win the paycheck lottery, they feel driven to “keep busy”. People, when talking about retirement, often say that they “wouldn’t know what to do with themselves.” Why is that?
Have you ever read a Jane Austen novel? Monied people didn’t work. If you watch Downton Abbey, the family is rather scandalized when they discover that the next in line to inherit the Earldom is a LAWYER who WORKS (gasp!). Back then, if you had the means, you didn’t work. But many people who have what I would consider to be plenty to live on insist on working, even though they don’t need to. It’s shameful if you don’t have a job, even if you don’t really need the money.
Why do we define ourselves by our livelihoods? When people ask me “What do you do?” I have often said, “I write, though that’s not how I pay the bills, if that’s what you mean.” Why do I feel the need to make that distinction? Because I have never defined myself by my job. The job was just a way for me to pay the rent. What I WAS was an artist (painter, sculptor) and a writer. I WASN’T a secretary, or a medical assistant, or a cashier. That was what I did by necessity; writing, painting, sculpting, etc. is what I did for love.
So, just being. One of the things I’ve discovered since losing my “regular job” back in June was the nature of the sleep issues I’ve had all my life. I always chalked them up to being “a night owl,” but even when I worked nights I still wasn’t sleeping enough, or sleeping through five (yes, five) alarm clocks, or any variation of “not being able to maintain a decent sleep schedule” in between. And yes, I read just about every article on sleep and tried just about every remedy besides drugs, and nothing helped. What I’ve discovered is that apparently, my circadian rhythm is not set to 24 hours. Once I finally let myself sleep when I was tired, instead of when I “should” sleep, and stay awake when I was awake, instead of trying to force myself to sleep, it became clear that I just don’t cycle every 24 hours. For instance, for the past few days, the cycle has been: awake for 26 hours, sleep for 10 hours, awake for 26 hours, sleep for 12 hours. That’s about three days but for me it was two. No WONDER I was either an insomniac or comatose. I’ve beat myself up over my sleep habits – or lack thereof – my whole life. I’ve been deemed “lazy” and “irresponsible” because of it, even when the majority of the time, trying to squeeze myself into a “normal” schedule meant that I averaged about five hours of sleep a night (or less). Accepting that I’m just not wired like most people, and not beating myself up over it or trying to force it into submission has been a boon to both my waking and sleeping hours (not to mention my mood). I feel great, and for once in my life, rested. One of the many reasons why I’ve been trying desperately to find my niche and earn a living writing/freelancing – I’d get to keep my sleep schedule the way it naturally is.
It took me months to get to the place where I am now, of neither trying to force myself into the “normal” mold, nor feeling guilty about it. I still struggle with it some days, especially during the winter months when the day is so short and THAT’S when my body decided it was bedtime. But the difference it has made in how I feel usually means I can override that guilty feeling with, “Don’t mess this up!” Or maybe “You’re allowed” or “You’re worth it.” Because you know what? We’re all worth getting a good night’s rest. Or staying up when we’re not tired. Either or. It’s not a sin.
And that’s been the overriding lesson learned these past couple of months of “cave time.” I’m allowed to turn inward when I feel the need. I’m allowed to let my body dictate when it’s tired or awake. I’m allowed to work like a busy bee or take a day off. I’m even allowed to have a bad mood some days, and not feel guilty for it. It’s called being human. We’re not perfect, and we’re not all the same. And I don’t have to internalize society’s dictates on what I “should” be or do. I needn’t feel guilty because I don’t fit the “average” mold. For years I beat myself up and hated that I didn’t fit that mold. Today I’m finally glad I’m different.