I’m noticing something about my life, and perhaps about life in general, that I’d like to explore here a little. It has mostly to do with time and what we choose to make of it as well as the battle waged between quiet time and accomplishment while seeking a contented satisfying life.
Personally, I am blessed with substantial flexibility and options in my life. While I run my own B&B/vacation rental and have involvement in other investments and projects, I have significant leeway with my movements and how I spend my time. Because of this somewhat rare and precious grant, and also because I am a vital, healthy, capable being, I feel a personal obligation to not squander the opportunity I have.
The interesting dance comes, however, because while it’s true that I don’t want to waste time and my life energy, I notice that I feel a little guilty or unsatisfied if I am not accomplishing something or bettering myself or the world in some way. There’s nothing wrong with betterment or contribution per se, but that undercurrent of responsibility seems to interfere with my ability to simply enjoy spaciousness and the simple pleasures of life itself as much as I could. My happiness and ease appear to be more dependent upon accomplishment than simply being.
I travel quite a bit, leaving my home in the hands of beach seeking vacationers in the summers and sometimes at other times of the year, venturing forth into the world in ways that call my soul. Those expansive summers are times ripe for gathering photographic images, philosophical perceptions and other raw materials for various projects which can be completed while home. Thus, my home time is the best opportunity that I have to integrate what I’ve gathered during my travels and complete various creative, community and home-oriented projects that require more focus and groundedness. This winter in particular, I’ve been feeling a much stronger calling to be home, to be here by the agitated Mendocino Coast sea with the strong swings of the solstice-inspired tides. My soul seems to crave time spent being still, and is feasting upon these long, dark storm-filled nights which support this period of looking inward, deepening and resting.
There has been a bit of a battle in me between this desire to be productive and work on creative projects, and my urge to winter in quiet and stillness. Productivity can feel so outwardly directed and I yearn more for the inward. Like many of us, I seem to feel better about myself when I’m being successfully productive. Perhaps that’s the exploration of what I’m trying to uncover here – the seemingly unholy alliance between personal productivity and self-satisfaction. Why does self-satisfaction need to derive itself from productivity and accomplishment? Just to be clear here, productivity can come not just when I complete a house project, or take on some creative or organizational project. Productivity/accomplishmentwhicht gives me satisfaction can also come from more self-reflective activities such as writing this post, meditation, taking a long walk, or taking care of my body with yoga and exercise. Yet something seems to be “off” when I need to accomplish something, whether inward or outward, in order to feel good about myself. Why isn’t simply “being” enough? Why is self-satisfaction dependent upon accomplishment? In many ways, this superego-enforced desire to be productive has served me well in life, but I am questioning the extent to which it has infiltrated the entirety of my life.
At the moment, as the inward time of winter intersects with the supportive, productive time of home, I’ve been working out a compromise with myself: Do my inward/supportive practices (yoga, meditation, exercise) in the mornings before otherwise starting my day, and then do my best to use much of the remaining daylight hours in quest of some form of productivity, making space for a beach walk in there as well. I’ll then spend the remainder of most evenings by the fire, writing in a journal, resting, connecting with others on similarly inward trajectories, reading and listening to music, and watching an occasional film.
I’m still left, however, with this question about the relationship between personal productivity and self-satisfaction. Is it simply part of the human condition? Cultivated in western thought? A trait that has propagated itself through evolutionary successes? Or simply a quirk of my own personal development? Perhaps it is as simple as a desire to be useful. When St. Francis famously intoned, “Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace; where there is hatred let me sow love,” etc., he wasn’t saying “Make me as productive as I can be,” but rather “make my life be a worthy one.” In that li
ght, perhaps productivity is to be embraced, but only to the extent that we feel it is being utilized in pursuit of activities which serve the ultimately unique calling of our own soul. Perhaps then, the uneasiness that we sometimes feel around lack of productivity can be viewed as an existential guide, cautioning us to attend to that which truly and more deeply matters to us. Careless squandering of this precious grant of life and opportunity perhaps should feel uncomfortable. For me, let that discomfort persist until a deeper underlying truth presents itself, and my life reflects that truth, both in inaction and action, in deepening and in contribution.