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A letter to Thomas Jefferson and The Case for White Space

A White Space
Image by Christian Fregnan on Unsplash (altered)

Determine never to be idle. No person will have occasion to complain of the want of time who never loses any. It is wonderful how much can be done if we are always doing – advising his daughter Martha, 1787. – Thomas Jefferson

Dear Mr. Jefferson,

It saddens me that you instilled into your daughter the belief that “always doing” is beneficial. I wonder how that worked for her. Perhaps it was the way of the 18th century, but with all due respect, I say poppycock!

This is a myth that needs to be dismantled. It’s time to redefine idleness and challenge the need to be “always doing”.

This notion that we get more done when we are constantly doing is a great example of the law of diminishing returns. It ignores the need for rest, recharge, re-creation. Where and when do we get to think and dream? To just noodle?

Sloth or idleness?

How do you define idleness, TJ? Did you never walk around the grounds of Monticello while dreaming up the Declaration of Independence or working through a gnarly design problem? I find a walk to be an amazing stimulus for my creativity. I’m re-creating and enjoying the fresh air while I write in my head or marvel at the ideas that pop up. I often use the voice-recorder on my iPhone. You would have loved that.

What about sitting down with a beloved book?

Perhaps you consider staring out the window to be idleness? Again, I disagree. Sometimes it can be hard to do sit and woolgather. However, when I do I find that the quality of the ideas and creativity that come up is better than anything that emerges when I have my nose to the grindstone that is my desk!

For me, the concept of idleness or what could be considered non-productivity is a struggle and something I work on and toward. Yes, I hear the irony in that. But I have come to understand its intrinsic value. Now, understand, I not talking about sitting around the house in curlers and a housecoat, a cigarette dangling from my mouth, watching Jerry Springer. That is sloth, not idleness. There’s a vast difference.

Idling or recharging

But I get it, this tug of constant productivity. The way that even downtime has to be structured and busy. It’s an attitude that has carried over from my years of working in corporate where busy-ness was a measure of my value. When I slip back into that mindset, no matter what I do it’s never enough. I go down a rabbit hole and fizzle out. Then I need to recharge. And in that situation my recharging choices are not always the best. Surfing the internet, computer games… You have no idea, TJ, of the ways we can be “idle” here in the 21st century.

Therefore, I’d rather weave “idle” recharging into my day. Even as I write this I will occasionally turn around and gaze out the window. The sky is autumn blue and the leaves are getting sparse. The sun slants in at a lower angle and casts long shadows. My mind relaxes and thoughts untangle. Sitting and looking out the window is just what I need at times. And then I turn back to the page.

White space

So, did you ever consider the beauty of white space on your calendar, TJ? A block of time that has no commitment. Expansive and luxurious. Where all things are possible. Yes, it may also produce anxiety, bring up the habitual need to fill it with something productive, something meaningful and purposeful. However, what I’m finding is that meaningful and purposeful don’t live on the hamster wheel. They live in our heart centers and if we are constantly “doing” as you are advising your daughter, we will never learn what they have to teach us. We will never hear their song that carries us into our Multidimensional Lives.  Here’s a beautiful article by Leo Babauta titled “Life’s Missing White Space.” He discusses how white space in design provides greater legibility, luxury, breathing room and balance. And then he applies these concepts to life.

What would white space look like for you?

The reality is that staying in that high activity mode, 24/7 is not healthy. It keeps the adrenaline pumping, causing stress and all those things that cascade down from that state. That state begets more need for productivity and the feeling that whatever we do is not quite enough. Certainly, I could do more. It keeps us on the hamster wheel.

Am I alone in this?

I’m curious, reader. What does idleness bring up for you? Do you need to be always “doing” or knowing what’s next? Could you use help in slowing the hamster wheel of endless productivity and defining what your white space might look like? Contact me and learn how working together can bring ease, possibilities and, yes, some of that well-deserved white space into a busy life.

A Journey of Becoming

The Journey Of Becoming
At the Seashore Original art by Donna Mills at Donna Mills Art

We are all on a journey of becoming. I used to think it was about growing up, but in fact it’s about growing. The world is a bit quieter and clearer right now. It’s a great opportunity to pause and see just where you are on your journey.

When I was in high school, and for many years later, my friends and I would ask each other “are we grown up yet?” It would usually come up as we celebrated deliberately belated birthdays. Our tradition was to delay, delay and then launch a guerrilla style celebration. We amused each other. What can I say? But on the silly card selected for the occasion, we would usually include that question: “Are we grown up yet?”

It was as if “grown up” were a place at which we would arrive. I’m not sure what we thought it would look like or feel like or how we would know we arrived. I do know that eventually we stopped asking and started living a grown-up life with all the normal accoutrements. We married, went to work, purchased homes; some had children, some married into children. We put our heads down and, well, I guess we grew up.

End of story? Oh, of course not!

In the introduction to his book “The Endless Practice: Becoming Who You Were Born To Be”, Mark Nepo mentions how the journey of becoming who we were born to be never ends. We don’t arrive. We grow.

As I read that, the question from my teenage years – about whether or not we were grown up yet – popped into my consciousness. We weren’t really asking about growing up; it was more about becoming a grown up. And, as Nepo reminded me, we don’t arrive; we continue to grow.

My friends and I are all mature, responsible women, now. But we haven’t finished growing yet. We’re still on the road.

On the journey

And it occurs to me that the journey of creating a Multidimensional Life never ends, either. A Multidimensional Life (MD Life) is one in which we tune in to what wants to be done on a deep level. It’s not a place at which we arrive. Rather, it’s a constant state of becoming, an ever evolving, dynamic process that heeds our inner wisdom as well as informs it. It’s an invitation to live from the inside out; from your magnificent essence. Yours. No one else. (They can ride along; they just can’t steer.)

It’s a time of liberation.

Liberation

As we move forward in this process of becoming, liberation asks for curiosity as well as hope. It asks that we put aside our comfort and discover the raw, unpolished beauty in the unedited version of ourselves. Liberation invites us to take small steady steps to create and express our truest selves. It reminds us that we have a deep well of wisdom; that there are possibilities of growth and transformation; that we have everything we need for this journey.

Paradoxically, there’s comfort in our familiar discomfort and liberation’s not always easy. It requires spiritual courage. However, in the end, it is so worth it.

Where do you begin?

Take a moment – now, if you can – and look up from your busy “grown up” life. Notice the road you’re on. Is it rutted and narrow? Uncomfortable? Are you ready for something new? If you’re not sure what that looks like yet, that’s okay. In the beginning the less certainty, the better. Just decide to start.

Questioning

Here’s a small question to nudge you. Don’t strain for answers. Just listen and let them bubble up.

Are you at a tipping point where your yearning for something truer to self surpasses the need for the safe and known?

Just being conscious of the question will begin a shift. Listening to your responses and the emotions it arouses will evoke more questions.  And, just like a tiny alteration in direction can ripple into a totally different destination for a ship, so too, will this questioning move you in new directions. You will become wakeful, attentive, liberated.

You’re not alone. We are legion on this journey of life.

Grab a partner for the journey

Don’t do it alone.  Contact me and we’ll talk about the nudges from your questions. We’ll draw on your creative spirit and to begin to look at your life as a journey of becoming. Together we can take the first small step into the rest of your MD life.

The Midlife Journey and Opening Doors

Transitions And Closed Doors

When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.  Helen Keller

Reading this quote led me to think of how, in midlife, we begin to feel the unease of change and the belief that too many doors are closing. Each time I read it, I get an immediate visual of someone looking longingly at a closed door, looking backwards at what’s done and gone. It may be that she’s not ready or willing to face what’s ahead. Or perhaps she’s not even aware that there is another door beckoning.

That makes me sad.

Our Options

When life hits us with challenges and changes it certainly feels like doors have closed and options are evaporating. And sometimes we’re too tired to go searching for the newly opened doors. I get that. And, while it may not always feel believable, what I do know is that we always do have choices, also known as doors.

We can:

Ignore the open door. Or continue to believe that there are no open doors for us. Feel sadness and despair.

See the door but feel fear about walking through it. Do nothing. More sadness.

See the door. Or doors. (There may be several.) Pause and step through with understanding.

That pause in the last option is a rich one.

A Potent Pause

A pause can be minutes, days or longer and here is what I have found to be true about it:

  • A pause is a rich time when we listen to our thoughts, observe and feel our way to choices. Because there are always choices. We can make them actively or passively, but they are always there.
  • It’s a period to process and integrate what has passed. When we do so, we can regroup, refresh and reorient ourselves to what lies ahead.
  • For me, pausing enables me to set aside my impatience and be objective and observant. I have aha moments and my body cues me as to the best direction.

What I’ve learned

As we listen deeply during a pause, we begin to understand that the first attempt might not be the final and that’s okay. At the same time, we know that inaction is rarely good. I’ve learned that life is full of trial and error and that we always have a second chance (or a third or fourth!) until our time on earth is over.

Life has taught me this many times. It’s why I pause. It’s how I remember what I know. When I believe there are open doors, they appear. When I trust my inner voice, I make wiser decisions. Those decisions are always the best for me at the moment. It may not always be what I expected. I leave myself open to wonder and surprise and I know there will be more doors.

Are you working through changes and looking for open doors?  I can help you with that. Contact me and together we will shine the light on the door that has opened just for you.

 

On Being and Beaning

“Stop a minute, right where you are. Relax your shoulders, shake your head and spine like a dog shaking off cold water. Tell that imperious voice in your head to be still.”

~ Barbara Kingsolver

Just be.

Oh, boy. That’s a hard one for me. How about you?

When I was first confronted with the challenge of “just being” I was very apprehensive. I was going off on a weekend retreat at the beach with two writing buddies. We were going to write and be quiet and “just be.”

“I don’t know if I can do that”, I told my friends. “It feels really hard to not be doing.” A weekend that should have been the ultimate in relaxation was becoming fraught with anxiety.

Being, Beaning, Beaners

They indulged me. You see, they were a lot further along in their being-ness. An ad for a local coffee shop lightened things up by inspiring the alternative of just “beaning”. That, in turn, christened us “Beaners.” Ahh, okay, much easier. I could work with that.

Years later we continue to riff on that moniker and have fun with it. I, in turn, am much more in tune with the need to “just be”. I’m not great at it, but my anxiety has almost disappeared.

The Myth of Productivity

My discomfort stemmed from a belief that I needed to be productive. Constantly. I know how unrealistic this is. At least my head does. However, somewhere in my vast unconscious, this idea has taken up residence and thrived.

I have also come to understand that my idea of productivity might be a little skewed. Multitasking and buzzing around is not always the best use of my time. Ping-ponging between different to-dos in different categories leaves me exhausted and feeling that I’ve haven’t gotten enough done. I have given this mistaken belief of how to be productive its eviction notice.

That space is now occupied by the gentle understanding that being on a walk or being with a thought or being fully with my husband or family gifts me with spaciousness. Ideas arrive, as if on wings. Thoughts are completed. The creative process flows with ease. That is a style of productivity that, while initially counter-intuitive to me, is much more desirable.

I love this quote by Kafka:

“You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” – Franz Kafka

What would you have “rolling in ecstasy at your feet?”

“Do not even listen”, he advises. He, too, is saying ignore the imperious voice. When we do that we move out of our head and into our bodies.

How can I do this, you ask, in this fast-paced crazy world we live in? I don’t have time to just sit and wait.

I hear ya!

Here is what I have discovered:
  • Just being aware of the fact that it was difficult to sit quietly and be still created a shift for me. I was no longer on auto-pilot. I realized that there could be a different way of being.
  • Daydreaming is productive. Who knew! What I like to call wool-gathering was actually a moment of quiet discovery. I began to notice where I was going. The next time you find yourself staring into that mid-distance, allow it. At the same time, be curious about what’s going through your mind. Listen. (Apologies to Kafka)
  • Just 3 minutes of meditation is super beneficial. Just one example of the benefits: I had never quite grasped just how impatient I was. Meditation showed me. It also lowered it. When I return to meditation after a lapse, I see it again. I know now that it will dissipate. And, yes, 3 minutes is a reasonable way to start. How long does it take a kettle to boil or a pot of coffee to brew? There you go!
  • Practicing quiet opens up a portal from which my inner wisdom flows. Now, if you’re anything like me, your head is a veritable circus. Sometimes, it’s a great place to be with thoughts and ideas careening about. But, that’s not where our true wisdom resides. It lives in the space between the thoughts. For that we need quiet.
  • Finally, I have found that curiosity is an important quality. While that might put us back into our heads, it carries no judgement. It provides an opening to what your true self needs at that moment.
And, here’s the challenge:

Where can you claim small moments of just being?

Can you tell that imperious voice in your head to be quiet? Over and over again?

How would it feel to accept without judgement the offerings of world? Be curious about what shows up? Watch them “roll in ecstasy at your feet”?

All of this has a story to tell you. Is it the one you want to carry forward??

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