Yeah, it does feel like a roller-coaster ride around here. I do kind of want to just pull the emergency stop button before I find myself in a spot I didn’t intend to be. But it has to be said that the past few weeks have been fun. And that’s probably why it didn’t feel abnormal, at the time. It only struck me yesterday, catching up with me quite unawares, when I had a slow evening and silently, I realised I was feeling normal again. Like the old normal.
That’s the thing about being 100% engaged in things you like doing. Not having a moment to spare, or an empty window of time to think about being bored, or jaded, or tired or wanting a change. Because you don’t think about it you never really are. Bored. Or tired. Or in need of a change. See how that worked out?
I’m reading this book called Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, and it has completely blown my mind. Every few pages I have to stop and breathe and recover from how eerily familiar it all sounds, because the book is pretty much a psychological study of the pursuit that has consumed the last 10-12 months of my life.
As the one year mark since I quit my job draws closer, I find myself evaluating many things. How far I’ve come, what I’ve accomplished, the obvious developments versus the subtle changes, the overwhelming differences versus the silent nuanced ones. A year of having no agenda is a long time. And this book chronicled exactly the way I feel about why I took time off, and what I wanted to do. I might as well have called it Project Optimal Experience.
When I decided I was going to take a break, a lot of people asked me what I would do. The simple answer was nothing. I didn’t have a plan. I only had a goal and I wanted to figure it out on the go, without plans and routines and schedules dictating my time. I wanted things to organically show up and lead the way. Which is not to say I sat in a Lotus Pose, day in and out until I attained a heightened sense of enlightenment. It’s not like a bolt of lightning struck me either, by which I suddenly realised what it is I wanted to do. All I knew is that I had two guiding rules. One, that I would fill my time with simple, meaningful things as far as possible. Two, whatever I decided to do, I would do well. Of course smaller goals like slow down and don’t multitask and be happy were peppered right thru. The overall hope was to gain some control over my life, which at the time was feeling like it was giving way at the seams. To gather myself, tie up all the loose ends and be a strong, happy person.
At the risk of sounding exceedingly conceited, I’m going to come out and say I think I’ve done rather okay. Every other sabbatical I have taken before had me tearing my hair out in no time, jumping into the first job I found just so I had something to fill my time and feel purposeful again. But over the last year I’ve learned to enjoy time out. Time alone. Time to myself. And I honestly cannot think of a single moment in the last year when I was bored, with nothing to do, at a loose end and like I wanted out. It could just be a secret map of providence that guided me through it, but at every point I found myself something deeply satisfying to engage myself in. Something that I enjoyed putting my time and effort into, something that gave me deep satisfaction (and I don’t mean monetary) and made me want to delve deeper into it. I’ve seen it happen with my baking, my writing, the resolution to read and with getting my body back in shape. That’s four major things that contribute to who I am. Perhaps that’s why the results are also so deeply personal and have made such a difference to the way I feel and live my life.
It’s only after I read the book did I realise how much of the last year has been spent in a state of flow — what the author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Try pronouncing it, I dare you!) calls the experience of being completely immersed and absorbed in a task at hand. Any task, that it gets elevated to a state of such immense joy that you lose track of time, space and everyhting around you. I’ve felt that several times this year. So many times through my stint at the cafe, or some times I was running and I forgot where I was and all I wanted to do was keep running, or it was when I was baking my ass off knocking off every order on a particularly busy day, or when I didn’t do anything for a day or two and just devoured a book from cover to cover. And this has little to do with a plan or a purpose. It has everything to do with being in the here and now, in the moment, giving yourself fully to whatever it is you are doing. No questions, no expectations.
Perhaps it also explains why despite the madness of tossing around my writing, baking, orders, reading and managing the home in all its WIP splendour didn’t feel all that annoying at the time. It was only when I had a moment of quiet yesterday, did I realise how long it had been since I just sat and caught my breath.
Lots of navel gazing has also made me see that this business of finding a purpose has little to do with what we end up doing in life. So far I have always attached this slippery thing called purpose, that is somehow always just out of reach, with my vocation or my profession. And since we all know just how much confusion that area of life has caused me, it felt even more out of reach. The past year has taught me that its okay for your purpose not to earn you any money. Or to give you tangible results. Maybe my purpose is to flit from one thing to another. To strive to be happy and make people around me happy, whether through my interactions, my relationships, my work, my words or with a little cake! And maybe this business of finding a purpose doesn’t have a perceivable end. Maybe this perpetual roller-coaster ride is part of the game and maybe there will be several more such phases.
Maybe that’s why I have increasingly felt that that every time I reached a milestone, the finish line slips further ahead. Maybe this constant, ceaseless ride is what it is all about, and its what we made of the ride and how much we enjoy it that matters?
Maybe that’s why, despite having very little to actually pinpoint and call my own doing over the last year, I still feel so satisfied. I feel like I have gained a world of experience just sitting at home, tons of confidence by just sticking to the things I love and learning to do them well, the satisfaction of achieving small goals I set for myself, and most of all the immense happiness that comes from getting lost in an activity of my choosing.
I’m half way through the book, and maybe if I can articulate my thoughts better than in this long-winded and meandering post, I will do a review, because it really has been like holding a mirror up to my soul, like looking back the way the year has gone by and in making sense of so many things I have just passed off as good fortune, or good timing, or good luck.
Some call it flow. Or an optimal experience. It’s probably what being in the zone is like. Or what I sometimes flippantly dismiss as being high on life. And now I realise its just called being happy. Now I know it was all intentional. Some hidden force inside of me made me choose and do the things I did. It was all part of the plan I never made. And I just decided to go with the flow.