Zen Happiness Habit #5 Make Room in Your Schedule ( Idle Time is NOT the Devil’s Playground)

Early Bird

“People say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing every day.”

A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh


I have a long standing appointment at noon, every Monday for  as long as I can remember, and I STILL find myself rushing to get there more often than not. I’m always ready to go early, but like many people, I don’t want to waste time waiting for my meeting, so I force myself to start a task or two, rarely completing them before I HAVE to leave.

I wasn’t trained this way.  My mom, Milly, was always early. My family and I would make jokes, and room, for her excessive promptness. I got in the habit of telling her I needed her an hour later than I actually did. That way, I knew she’d be about a half hour early.

Sometimes it seemed bothersome, but all in all, I have to say that it was reassuring to be able to count on someone to be ready and waiting when you needed them.

I inherited this promptness trait from Milly, but I fight my tendency to be early, forcing myself to answer one more email or complete one more task before I leave. Then of course, I get lost in emailing or facebooking or paperwork or whatever pressing task I invent to preclude the dreaded wait time, and soon, I find myself rushing just to be on time.

I think this habit of filling up every minute of my life with busy work was born in the lifetime practice of solving my problems by doing something. I was talking with a friend yesterday, who shared her recently uncovered feelings of urgency as she grows into middle adulthood, as if some hand from above was pushing her, saying you better do something right now! She, like me, has been trained in the idea that we have to do something to be worthy of this gift called life. These ideas are jammed into us from early on:

the harder we work, the better it gets,

the faster we are, the happier we are,

the more we can squeeze into a day, the more happiness will come our way.

These truisms are not true for me. Time for introspection and idle thought is time for the irreplaceable gift of knowing myself, of falling in love with a great idea, or appreciating my current circumstance. Without this time, my creative ideas and my gifts are stifled.

For industrious Americans like me, it’s hard to practice this habit of making room in our schedule. And when we put it on top of Doing One Thing at a time, doing it slowly, doing it completely, and doing less, it seems counterintuitive to our widely admired Puritanical work ethic.

So I’m going to think of the extra 15 minutes that I will now schedule between appointments as inspiration time, just as important as any other task on my list.

To be honest, I’m not sure if this is a good idea. Like you, I am just practicing.

I’ve got a feeling, though, that if Albert Einstien, Edgar Allen Poe , Benjamin Franklin, and so many others thought that idle time was a good idea, I’m going to listen.

Today, I left the house sooner than necessary to catch the train, and I caught an earlier train than usual, so I can slow down my walk to the office.

One minute at a time, I’m remembering. Like a tall plant, I need room to grow. I can’t get ahead if I keep myself in the dark room of busyness all day long.  Occasionally, I need the gift of inspirational space, a room with ceilings high enough to inspire, a room with the fertile light of un-assigned time and space.

“It has occurred to me that the thing you have, that all men have enough of, is perhaps the thing that you care for the best, and that is your leisure – the leisure you have to think; the leisure you have to be let alone; the leisure you have to throw the plummet into your mind, and sound the depth and dive for things below.”

James A. Garfield, The Works Of James Abram Garfield

And, like my mom, I can offer my promptness as a gift of reassurance, practicing loving kindness by letting other people know they can count on me.

Honey, I like to be early. I like people to know I’ll be there. Then they can stop worrying and enjoy.

That’s why I’m early. I want everybody, including myself,  to stop worrying and enjoy.”-Milly Gustafson



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