Going to Listen

Sometimes, my work ethic interferes with some other positive aspects of life. I find it difficult (impossible) not to feel guilty if I’m not producing something or doing something. I’m having to relearn the importance of “doing nothing” as a component of well-being. During my time as a graduate student, I worked every day for years. And years. About two years after I completed the PhD, I began to realize that I could give myself permission to take a day off.

For the last several years, I have been unable to go somewhere just to go there. As a continuation of the graduate experience, I tend to turn everything into work–can’t do it just to enjoy it, need to turn it into a project or a course. It isn’t healthy to look at a pleasure and think, “How can I turn this into work?” Justifying my existence is exhausting, always feeling that I had to have an active answer to “what are you doing.” My days were full of gerunds–finishing, writing, researching, developing.

Awhile ago, I related a story about staying in the Irish midlands for a few focussed weeks, but being stuck and not writing, becoming frustrated and anxious about time passing without results. In my creative paralysis, I went for a walk to the bog, mostly just to get away from all those unwritten lines and empty pages. Stomping along the road berating myself. I got to the edge of the bog and stood there staring at it, and eventually, I became aware of the breeze on my face, and I gradually became present. My head had been back in the cottage with the unwritten lines. I heard birds calling. I started to look around and saw all sorts of plants and grasses and little blossoms. It was a revelation.

I realized that I had been neglecting the sensory world. I was so excited because I had discovered why the lines were empty. It was because I didn’t know anything about the things that belonged in those lines. In order to make a world real, there must be breezes, grasses, sounds, colours, textures. There was a lot of research to do, to discover the natural world, the sensory world. It wasn’t an intellectual discovery. It was a sensory discovery. My surroundings told me.

The other day, I was telling my coffee companion that I’m nervous about the three weeks I have set aside for myself in June, going away for the first time with no specific project to pursue. That’s uncharted territory for me, and I don’t know how it will work. How do I justify the going? What am I going for? She reminded me of my epiphany in the bog. She said maybe I’m going to listen. I’m excited by that. That’s doing something. Why am I going? I’m going to listen.

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Filed under On Thinking, On Writing

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