From tomorrow, for two and a half months, I’ll be free of the yoke of substantive Big Years. Last year we didn’t do any major trips, so this represents the first hefty downtime from daily strictures in well over a year. I’ll be busy but differently busy.
I welcome the holiday but as always when given some breathing room, I feel an urge to dream, to dream big. So I’ve decided that in snatched spare moments, I’ll try to envision what future Big Years should entail. Why not? What could inspire more?
And being the geek I am, my chosen method of picturing the future is to read books. So I’ll use six recently published books to reflect on six possible Big Years. Sometimes a chosen book seems to be right on song, sometimes it’s the best I can do and might not amount to much at all. At the very least, I breathe to myself, let’s set the imagination soaring.
Time for a break, a holiday with some adventure, some beauty and downtime. Time also to assess my Big Years after 100 days of 2018. The Stillness Big Year has been an easy success, 100 days of 10 minutes of meditation using Headspace.
You can do the sums: in effect I’ve had eyes closed, “resting on the breath,” as Andy Puddicombe puts it, for sixteen hours or one waking day. A recent post assessed the import of this and stressed my ongoing cynicism as well as real hope of big internal change. All in all, let me give myself a tick on this one.
Fear permeates the page, the pen, the eye, the mind.
If fear were absent, we’d be as good as dead.
Let me say it again: FaceBook is an invader massacring concentration. Let me say it again: FaceBook hoovers up concentration and atomises it. Let me say once more: concentration sees FaceBook walk through the door and bleats, “I surrender.”
Be precise, Andres. I love FaceBook, a magical aspect of my life. I don’t begrudge a minute on FaceBook EXCEPT when I’m trying to work.
So . . . the draconian rule of my Big Year that says “No FaceBook before noon” remains hard to enforce but invaluable. Today I’m obeying that rule and guess what? Success and fun!
For the first hundred days of 2018, I’ve done all this Big Year asks of me – just ten minutes each day listening to a session on the Headspace app. Am I still a fan?
The first thing that has to be said is that meditation, of whatever form and duration, is clearly most individualistic. Some people long for constant mindfulness. Others, and I count myself among them, retain a healthy shot of cynicism. To be blunt, most of the time I don’t wish to be chilled out and peaceful. Bring on the fizzing mind, I say.
Nonetheless, one aspect of Headspace stressed by the founder (and voice) of Headspace – the pleasure in taking a moment out of the frenetic day – is something I’m definitely noticing. I look forward to my 600 seconds of “time out.”
But of course meditation is meant to lead to far more than a sense of time off, far more than the relief of a glass of wine at the end of the day. It’s meant to change one’s life. Has that happened to me? I can’t say it has. After the first thirty days of introductory work, I’ve been gradually working through various modules and each one of them teaches a different technique. For example, the Restlessness module offers a visualization of slowly filling up with light. My current module, Motivation, inserts a major philosophical “question to oneself” every day. In spite of instructions to take each lesson out into the hurly-burly of the everyday, I rarely remember to do so. For me, Headspace remains a daily trinket.
Yet I must conclude on a note of optimism. Even though I haven’t internalised each Headspace technique, the steady drip-drip of the routine might yet lead me to taking “the next step” during 2018. I do remember every nifty technique. Whenever I choose, at random, to use one at my writing desk or out in the world, it seems to have a beneficial impact. Perhaps, after another 265 sessions, I shall transform into mindfulness incarnate. Perhaps . . .
In a few days, the work halts. Vacation time it will be. Down the pen, don the boots, eh? In the meantime, let’s race hard, let’s be proud of oneself on the final day.
If I could spend all my days wordsmithing – selecting the best words and putting them in optimal order – that’s what I would do. It’s surprising how infrequent this craft work is. Oh, I know drafting is all about the words, but mostly I find myself conjuring up sentences whose sole function is to express plot or idea or fact. Some care is taken with the words, of course, but not in way I mean when I say “wordsmithing.” Wordsmithing is a delicious sinking into hours of moulding old phrases and consulting dictionaries and thesauri for perfect effect.
Today I’m happy to cross out the word “embroiled.”
Working hard entices you into a spiral in which your underlying mood dips, day by day, until one day you realize you’re only plodding on because of stubbornness. This descent seems barely noticeable. And then you’re there. Where you are isn’t pretty. At that point you need a circuit breaker: a word of encouragement from a friend, a bracing bike ride, or a bottle of wine.
In the space of one day, sometimes only an hour, perhaps even just over a single minute, you’re transformed. You run to your desk.
In a week we head off to “do” the Way of Saint Francis of Assisis, a 560 km walk that is one of those global walks labelled as a “pilgrimage.” Why this term? Because religious pilgrims used to ply this route. Now, of course, people like me attempt it.
I’m an atheist. What does it mean to spend five weeks on a pilgrimage route? Why am I attracted to such a hike? While legs and feet provide my locomotion, my mind shall, I hope and plan, think about and reflect upon exactly that question.
Photo by Dan Gribbin on Unsplash
They were meant to feed off each other. The Freshness Big Year – reduced exercise but still daily, regular sleep patterns, less alcohol, a couple of minor dietary improvements – was intended to produce steady energy that feeds into my 1,000 Big Year, which is all about finishing a book: rise early, no Facebook during each dedicated-to-work morning, draft a thousand words, do daily planning/monitoring.
It hasn’t worked out as planned, at least not yet. Sleep has been disrupted. Exercising has been weirdly tough. Some days have required plotting or analysis, not drafting, and I’ve jumped briefly to publication plans for a different book. Frankly, my days are often a mess.
But let’s look at the positives. One way or another, nearly every day includes the equivalent of a full, uninterrupted-by-FB morning work. I’m exercising nearly daily and my end-year targets might still be achievable. I’m enjoying less wine. I’m more or less organized, day by day. The spirit of each of these Big Years is well and truly alive. I adore them both.