Deciding to read more slowly has begun an unexpected process. I am beginning to unpick my habits. Perhaps reading has formed such a central part of my identity, my experience, that taking a different approach with that has caused me to step back and ask myself about everything else. I am questioning everything. Nothing is off-limits.
I have begun keeping a journal, nothing serious but a daily process of writing down my thoughts, my feelings, my observations, the little events of the day. I find that writing in my journal helps me create space for my thoughts, a little oasis of reflection which serves as a buffer to all the things which demand my attention. I have encouraged silence into my life. It is tenuous, weak and not always present but I have ways of creating silent spaces, places I can go, and when I need them I can go there. I am trying to meditate at least every other day; I’m not always successful but I’m trying.
It is becoming easier to let go, to stop doing things I used to do because I realised I had no good reason for doing them. I deactivated my Twitter account and whilst I miss some of the interaction, there are some lovely people who use Twitter, I don’t miss the endless pull of hysteria, outrage, the overwhelming flood of things to be worried and disgusted about. Things I can do nothing about. I have been calmer since I stopped using it, and it’s also limited the reach of my desire. It is nice to learn about new books and new writers, but until I can commit to the ones I already have I don’t need to know about any more.
My life has become a daily experiment in habit breaking. At the beginning of this month I started ‘no internet Tuesdays’, one day a week when I don’t surf the web. It’s not entirely no internet. I allow myself to check my e-mail once in the morning and once in the evening. When I travel to London, I can chat to my husband on skype on the way home. If I need to use the internet for work, for research, then I can do so. The mail is not a necessity, rather a matter of housekeeping and I may quit that at some point, but the chat with my husband is important and I don’t want to be so rigid that I alienate those connections which are so critical to me. What I don’t do is look up inconsequential things, read news articles that neither enlighten nor challenge me and which I would have had no interest in except that they are there. Tuesdays have become the longest day of the week, an oasis of expanded time in which I can think, connect, get bored if I want to. I can sit by the window and listen to the birds and not feel I am ‘wasting’ my time. I am wallowing in it, letting it flood me. At some point I might try a ‘no internet’ Saturday or Sunday. I’m not brave enough yet, but I’m getting there.
I have cut my caffeine consumption. I have a cup of coffee in the morning, and a cup of green tea in the evening and, perhaps, one around midday if I feel it is absolutely necessary. The rest of the time I drink water or herbal tea, milk or juice. Wine, on occasion. I no longer want to anaesthetise or drug myself. I want to experience the world through unflitered emotions.
Wine. I have turned my hand to winemaking. Part of being more connected to the things I consume.
Thoreau said he wanted to live more deliberately and I am beginning to do the same. I am more than just a collection of habits. These experiments are only so much tinkering, a way of figuring out what is really important to me, what I need and what is periphery. Breaking habits is remarkably easy. You only have to start with one, and others follow.
Making new habits is proving much harder. I have a rough idea of where I want to be. My desires fall into three distinct categories. I want to be physically strong, mentally strong and more connected. These are simple aims, but complex in delivery. Mental strength is my strongest asset, though I need to do more to assure it. I would like to meditate daily, I have derided my inability to find a mere 10 minutes a day to spare in this valuable activity. Reading for learning, for self-expansion rather than simple entertainment has become much more important. I am finding reading fiction a struggle, unless it is something with great depth or complexity. I want to read to learn, to empathise, to challenge my thinking, to become a better version of myself. Fiction can do this, but non-fiction may retain the significant place in my reading time.
My physical strength needs work. I do not do enough exercise. I like to walk; I have tried my hand (or feet) at running but sickness put a stop to it. Whether I start running again or not, I need to move more. Luckily being outside, out in the marvellous variety that our world in all its diversity offers, is another of my goals. I also need to address my physical flexibility, I used to do gymnastics when I was younger and I know too well how much more rigid I’ve become since then, my body perfectly moulded by years of a sit down job. I have the classic physique of the regular attender of business meetings. I need to eat less and better. There’s a lot to do.
Connectedness is important too. I want to see and experience more of my daily life, not just get through it. Dillard has inspired me to stop and look at what’s in my garden, to lie in the grass and see what happens. I want to look into my husband’s eyes and remember all the wonderful things that drew me to him, that continue to hold me to him even now. I want to appreciate the miraculousness of my children. It is easy to forget, through the daily annoyances, the pressures and the griefs, that my children are unique and extraordinary people. I don’t want to thoughtlessly consume anymore. But I’ve talked enough about that before, it’s nothing new.
Making a small change has created massive ripples, but all these ripples are good. I feel like I am back in the process of becoming, I am not a fixed and rigid article, stuck in my ways. I am a long way from perfect, I am not very nice and not overly kind and I am still stinting of my time and not a brilliant friend. But neither am I dosing myself awake and asleep, ‘getting through’ days and ‘enduring’, ‘distracting’ myself with mindless entertainment, not that such a thing is really terrible. It’s just that I’m trying to make as many experiences as I have valuable to me. I know I can’t make them all, but more is still an achievement.