I have noticed that a busy day with many tasks accomplished leaves me highly satisfied whereas I tend to feel vaguely disappointed if I get to the end of a day and cannot point to anything significant that I have done since I got out of bed. (Who is assigning significance? Me of course!)
Sometimes I think I am getting the hang of this 'being' thing. Then a deadline approaches. Like, for example, the departure date for a journey. Soon, I find myself compiling the inevitable 'things-I-must-do-before-we-leave' list. Redirect the mail. Weed the garden. Buy a new suitcase. Get my e-mail up to date. Clean my shoes. Re-charge the camera batteries …
It's not the list that is the problem. Nor even the utter glee with which I cross things off it. The problem is the feeling of vague dissatisfaction I get when a day goes by with nothing crossed off and nothing to show for having lived another twenty-four hours.
As long as I can remember, I have had days of pottering interspersed with days of prodigious output. I am like the hare in the hare and tortoise story who alternated between napping and sprinting. I can totally relate to the hare.
But of course he lost the race. The plodding tortoise is the hero of the story. Our industrial culture rewards the person who works at a steady pace, just like a machine, and has a full 'out' basket at the end of each day. That is what many of us learn to expect of ourselves, regardless of how well that pattern actually suits who we are.
Such an expectation, fully internalised by the time we reach adulthood and reinforced in the workplace, makes it difficult ever to recapture the pure, joyful present-centredness of early childhood. Instead, we become addicted to Getting Things Done and for many of us the addiction persists into the years of so-called 'retirement'. (Even into really old age. I have a 91-year-old relative who frequently chides herself for being 'lazy' and 'not doing anything').
Not that retirement means we should forego the pleasure of doing what we enjoy or of doing a whole lot of things we never had time for before. Being busy is fine. But we should never feel driven. Never, ever, ever.
I often write about the importance – and the pleasure – of living in the Now and substituting 'being' for 'doing'. But do I practise what I preach?
Well yes I do, sometimes. On my daily walks in the countryside, or on vacation, or just strolling around my garden simply observing and breathing instead of weeding or planting, I am often able to do what Richard Carlson calls 'slowing down to the speed of life'. It feels really good.
But the rest of the time? Hmm … not so much.
And by the way, have you noticed that even this post is couched in terms of achievement? I am trying to achieve a state of not being preoccupied with achievement. Arrgghh!! That's enough to drive even a Zen master to drink.