Walking isn’t part of my morning routine, except for a short walk to and from work. Walks for thinking and exercise usually happen in the evening. The trouble is, I want to do many things in the morning. (It’s a little like plotting furniture placement for a room that’s bigger in my mind than it is in reality.) And the farmers market is a morning thing, so I’d have to defer some usual morning things until later.
It reminds me a little of that object lesson about the jar of rocks and sand. You know it, right? Someone fills a jar with rocks and asks his audience, “Is the jar full?” Yes, they agree. Then he pours pebbles in around the rocks. Full? Probably … Then he pours in sand. Finally, water up to the brim. (Here’s one, perhaps the first, of many versions. The first time it was demonstrated in front of me, the role of rocks was played by golf balls.)
It appealed to me the first time I heard it. I can easily fill my jar with sand; and I know what it’s like to try to fit a rock into an already pretty full jar; and there’s something satisfying about filling that space up—the magic trick aspect of it, maybe, or the nature-abhors-a-vacuum aspect. I grasped right away that the moral of that possibly apocryphal story is “you’ll shortchange the important things in life if you don’t put them first,” not the wrong conclusion that some people draw from it and some people actually use it to illustrate: “You can always squeeze or pour or force more into your jar of time.”
The image and metaphor stuck in my mind. But at some point the bloom was off the rock. The more I thought about or came across that little story, the more something bugged me. Something wasn’t quite right.
I think it’s the lack of attention about what gets displaced.
If I held a jar before you, not even a single rock in it yet, and asked, “Is the jar full?” some wag or rebel would say, “Yes. Full of air.”
I think some of us feel so time-choked because there’s no air in our jars.
In this writing prompt (taken from Valorie Burton’s book How Did I Get So Busy? The 28-Day Plan to Free Your Time, Reclaim Your Schedule, and Reconnect with What Matters Most), I’m focusing more on the “space” than the “want” because, well, “want” is an awfully big subject on its own. There’s so much to say about it that I’m going to say hardly anything at all right now. (Maybe later. Maybe not.) I will say this: Some wants are good, and some are selfish desires, and sometimes it’s easy to temporarily convince myself that the latter is the former.
Possibly that kind of self-defeat in the guise of self-care happens when my jar is so full that there’s no time to think. I’m working with an oxygen-starved brain.
A few months ago I moved close to work, to a home half the size of my last one, to create space for several things I wanted: a simpler life, more walking, less money going to rent, and space itself, in the form of time.
I believe that sleep is one of our big rocks, and lately I have been letting myself sleep until I wake. Sometimes it’s when I would normally wake anyway. Sometimes it’s an hour later. But in that extra time, in those crazy dreams that then lead to a moment when I am suddenly awake and ready to get up, I think some kind of mending is being done, like a defrag program being run in the brain, or small, fraying tears being stitched up in parts of my body that suffer without enough sleep. I know it’s a luxury to be able to do that; I know enforcing my own earlier bedtime should accomplish the same thing, and still allow me to get up at the same time every day and write. But for now, this seems like a good want.
That Saturday, all I wanted from the farmers market was a big fresh homegrown tomato for the pasta dish I planned to make that afternoon. And coffee from a homegrown coffeehouse between here and there. And the walk itself.
So the morning work got deferred. The coffee was good, and for a moment while I was there, a shaft of light came in the far end of the room and sliced across my table the way it does in some of those ancient structures only once a year, on a solstice or equinox. I found a perfect tomato, and paid with exact change. I ended up walking to the river, and sitting outside and reading, and floating an idea on Facebook, and walking farther to attend a meeting at church, and finding two great places that I’ll return to on foot for sitting and reading and thinking. I ended up making two decisions that fit right in with my goals for living more deeply planted in this place and making my little urban cabin a place of hospitality. All good stuff that saw the crack of light provided by “I think I’ll walk to the farmers market for a tomato” and wedged open a whole morning’s worth of space.
And somehow, in the following days, the stuff on Saturday’s overstuffed to-do list got done anyway, or just didn’t matter any more.
If you ever visit me, and you use the bathroom, and you are an observant person, you might notice something purely decorative that I almost didn’t keep when I moved: a jar with three elements. It holds sand (harvested and toted inland from actual beaches that I or loved ones set bare foot on); seashells (ditto), and space (local air, the only one of the three that I cannot live without).
Next week we’ll finish out our self-care series. Our final prompt: Stop striving, start trusting.
Prologue: Make the bed
1. Assess your situation
2. Hurrying up is slowing you down
3. Make a heart-to-heart connection daily
4. Work to live, don’t live to work
5. Have fun at least once a week
6. Eat good food, preferably sitting down
7. Get good exercise, preferably standing up
8. Address your adrenaline addiction
9. Create deliberate daily rituals
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