What’s So Wrong With Relaxing?


If the enforced isolation and social distancing of the last 20 months have taught me anything, it is that not being busy all the time is really a delightful thing. Not driving to an appointment, deciding right now is not the only time to get a new pair of shoes, or dressing up for dinner at a restaurant when the pantry is fully stocked. 

Of course, there is a new book I want to pick up at the library even though I have three yet to be finished on the side table. An online course catches my eye. Yes, it will require several hours a week of study and reading but, hey, I am stuck inside anyway. Yet, I postpone a decision to sign up.

Our minds often seem to be happiest when they are the busiest. Planning, projecting ourselves and our circumstances into the future makes the mind tingle with firing neurons. Reliving the past allows us to rewrite our motivations or decisions, some of which turned out well, some not so much.

The present is well, just present. Society has been put into a kind of deep freeze, so there is not much to do or think about unless it is to worry about toilet paper shortages.

Do these paragraphs kind of resonate with you? They certainly did for me. I have a low threshold of boredom. (So far) Covid has left me free of disease. But, it has had a rather interesting effect on my daily performance. I have discovered that not having multiple things lined up to do is not a bad place to be. 

I learned that I need not be afraid of silence, of quiet times, of inactivity for a while. I found that my mind can operate quite nicely, thank you, without constant outside stimulation. I can be very good company for myself.

For the last five months, Betty and I have begun the day with 10 minutes of meditation.  Sometimes it is guided by a pleasant-voiced man who helps us focus on some aspect of our life.

Other days we will choose to start and end with a simple gong; silence and our thoughts fill the gap. It has become enough of a habit that without it the day fills a little off-kilter. Studies show meditation helps seniors with stress, better sleep patterns, memory, and mental clarity, so we feel good about investing a few minutes a day.

Obviously, I have restarted this blog. The writing and taking the focus away from all retirement topics have made the creative process enticing again. Since all that is needed is a laptop and some quiet time, this almost post-Covid time has been the perfect opportunity to see where things go.

The weather is finally becoming pleasant enough for time on the back patio, with coffee, a book, maybe a sketchpad, or simply the sounds and sights of nature. A reinstalled hummingbird feeder has started to attract several of the tiny wings-never-stop creatures. 

Because my painting skills are strictly amateur level, I can relax even when facing a blank canvas. I have fun mixing colors and trying to create something recognizable. If the end result doesn’t please me, I do not hesitate to cover the canvas with white gesso and start anew. Surprisingly to me, stress is never present during this time.

Yes, I remain busy with my volunteer work with the local library system’s Friends organization. I am on a steering committee with United Way to help build a retiree group. I even joined the Rotary Club while in Kauai last month. That involves some time and money but keeps me semi-connected to the island.

So, it is not as if I am sitting and vegetating. But, when I decide to do something I think the decision is a bit more considered, with a bit more purpose than before. I have learned how to satisfy my buzzing brain while keeping my body mostly still and at rest.

Reading is one of the real joys of my life. The Covid lockdown followed by steps out of my safe zone has allowed me to indulge this passion. I get excited when I find a new author, or at least new to me, who knows how to write well, build characters, plot, and drama. At the same time, as the Internet privacy post demonstrated, non-fiction is part of my reading palette.

Since this is where this side trip seems appropriate, let me take a slight detour and list just a few books I have enjoyed over the past few months. If a title intrigues you, take a look:

Nine Perfect Strangers  by Liane Moriarty (a series on Hulu.. the book is better)

A Trick of The Light by Louise Penny

Mercy Falls by William Kent Kruger

The Voice Catchers  by Joseph Turow

Why Christianity must change by John Shelby Spong

Relaxation is assumed to be one of the primary benefits of retirement. After working for twenty, thirty, even forty years that makes sense. Yet, our mind has been working at such a pace for so long, relaxing just seems wrong, like a waste of our potential.

I bought into that perception for way too long. As I move through my seventh decade, I am realizing that the opposite is really true. At least for me, my fullest sense of potential comes when there is no one pressuring me to complete something. When I have the time and space to think and consider my actions and my options, and how  I spend my energy and time, the end results seem better.