The Thrill of Just-In-Time

I have an addiction.

In the past, it was often exhilarating.  But now it is making me ill, so it’s time to do something about it.

Five days a week, I allow myself plenty of time to get ready for work.  And five days a week, I am running out the door, heart racing, palms sweating, because I know I am going to be late.

But the thing is:  I am never late.   Or almost never.   And that is the thrill, and the trap.

It is a beautifully choreographed dance.  I rise at 5:30.   I eat a nutritious breakfast, pray and meditate, do a little stretching and reading, and pack a wholesome lunch.   I feel alive and refreshed, ready for the day.  I may even take a little time to straighten the house as I groom and dress.  I feel that I have lived a good morning, many worthwhile things have happened in this quiet space before daylight.

One would think the final object of this perfectly choreographed morning would be my early arrival at work – perhaps by ten or fifteen minutes – so that I can carry a relaxed feeling of clarity into my day.

But no, apparently the real object is for me to arrive breathless and dizzy, bounding up the stairs thirty seconds before our 8 a.m. start time, acutely aware of my boss standing a few feet away, checking his watch to see that I just barely made it (again) and wondering if this is the day he should reprimand me.

But he doesn’t reprimand me, because I am a good employee, and I do good work, and I stay a little late each day to make sure everything’s in order.  This is also part of the thrill.

I’m always just in time, just under the wire.  Not a moment to spare.  The irony, of course, is that I’ve undone most of my good work of the morning.  Well, not most.  I did eat well, and I enjoyed my reading, and I felt devotion in my prayers.   But I undid the relaxation, the peacefulness, that is a primary goal of my quiet morning routine.

So why do I defeat myself?  Why do I do this nearly every day?  Why have I done this in some form since I was a child?

I’ve read theories about attention-seeking and low self-esteem, but I’m not entirely sure.  That’s why I lay it out before you, hoping my attempts at an explanation will shed some new light, reveal a way out.

In the past, I didn’t care so much.  It was a game.  And the adrenaline rush that it produced gave a kick start to my day, like a strong cup of coffee that got me off and running.

But now, it just makes me ill.   Not at first, but in a matter of hours.  And even the rush itself is contaminated with anger.  Because I have tried to change, and I can’t.  I have reduced my morning activities, for instance, to allow time to leave my house earlier.   But I just end up sneaking something else in (like one more peek at Facebook) so that I am back on my breakneck pace and any gain I’ve made is lost.

I am compelled, and that is the addiction.  But now I see that aging, that old substitute for wisdom, is forcing me to change.  I just can’t do this any more.   What once gave me a charge, now leaves me drained.   My body has to recuperate from this sudden explosion of energy, sometimes with aftereffects late into the day.   It just isn’t worth it anymore.

So, perhaps, my tired body will force my unruly mind and spirit to take a higher road.   Maybe that is one of the benefits of aging: a forced humility that makes us confront things about ourselves that we would happily ignore, things that may nudge us toward finally being the person we really want to be.

In Praise of Sitting

When I was younger, I never sat. Or let me say more accurately, I never rested. I always had an agenda.

Young people can be terribly hard on themselves. In my twenties, I wanted to change the world, be an important writer, really make a difference. Nothing wrong with that. But it made it hard, sometimes, to enjoy a meandering conversation in front of the TV, or a relaxed cup of tea with my husband at the kitchen table.

I was always pushing myself. In my 30’s and 40’s, when my goals seemed less idealistic, I was still chasing a to-do list. Make that new Indian dish, finish my stack of library books, write that letter to the editor, work on my garden, and go for a couple of runs – all before work on Monday.

My goals changed through the years, but never the energy behind them. I was a young, healthy force in motion, staying in motion.

I reflected a little, but it was always with the goal of improving myself, being better, a winner in the game of life. Some might blame my unsettled childhood: making up for lack of friends and stability and self-esteem. Who knows? But I had to cross that imaginary finish line first every time, even in the most mundane arenas.

Then, one day, somewhere in my mid-40’s, I just couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t just go and go all day. I tired easily and developed insomnia. I couldn’t exercise as much I once had. I started reading books about aging and stress and hormones, and became a little depressed. I wanted my old self back, someone I thought I knew.

I learned I had to push myself less and rest more. I wasn’t happy about it at first, but I took the opportunity to learn some meditation, learn to sit in a room and do nothing.

And I really liked it. In fact, I loved it. As I sat, I glimpsed the bright recesses of my being, I found a core of love and peace, something that didn’t need fixing, just a little compassionate attention.

About 5 years have passed, and I still rest between tasks and take some down time every day.  My health has returned and I don’t take my strength and energy for granted anymore.  I have learned that stress will take it’s toll on all of us eventually, if we don’t make time to live off the clock sometimes:  to laugh and love and relax without an agenda.

Now in my early 50’s, I am looking forward to the adventures ahead. I have found a new normal: a place that honors the goals I have for myself, but also appreciates the stillness, the beingness that has no goal but love. I now seek a mixture of work and play, striving and rest, with time to reflect on the person within and all that she is.

Young At Heart