I have to work really, really hard to relax. It can be so difficult to sit still, unwind and take things in. Those afflicted with my struggle to slow down will understand that there is always something that needs doing: there are bills to pay, financial spreadsheets to update, messages to send, articles to read and things to be organized. And with so much to do, why not do two things at once? I mend my blouse while watching a movie, pay the bills while listening to a podcast and switch back and forth between projecting our finances and doing email. My natural state is to continually be working on something -- to always be producing. Perhaps it’s my atavistic need to gets things accomplished, to get things done, that continually pushes the possibility of relaxation further and further to the side.
My to-do lists give structure to my days, whether I’m working, going to school, or hanging around the house. Now, I don’t believe that creating and following my lists is necessarily a bad thing. They have served me very well for 55 years and have helped me accomplish much. However, one of my goals for our year abroad is to simply relax, clear some quiet space in my mind and consciously take in and appreciate my surroundings. There’s a Pascal quote that says something like, “All men's miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.” Well, I want to make sure that such miseries have no place in our gap year. We need to build in plenty of lazy expanses of unscheduled time to simply sit quietly and look around, whether in a rustic gîte or comfortable inn, on a mountaintop or park bench. While it may go against my “get-it-done” nature, I’m determined to slow down and resist the fast pace of cities, not worrying if we miss a few must-see sights. It will be more important to genuinely take in, enjoy and remember those we do see. I also want to spend as much time in nature as possible, absorbing the pleasure of simply being there and allowing the power of the outdoors to nourish us. I’ll continue to use lists to help define our days – I’m not planning to fundamentally change who I am, after all. However, consciously choosing to relax – to sometimes just sit and be -- will be added to the list. Unwinding may not be the very first thing at the top, but it certainly won’t fall to the bottom as it does now. The big question is: will I be able to accept that relaxing is indeed an accomplishment? Only time will tell.