Why We All Need Quiet Days.

Mindful

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For the last two centuries a cult has been spreading widely and rapidly around the world, seeking to dominate and control every moment of our lives; today it has hundreds of millions of adherents, including almost all the conspicuously successful individuals on the planet; nether a religious dogma nor a political creed, it is devoted instead to a single, striking ideal: busyness.

It insists that a good life – the only life worthy of a capable and intelligent person – is one of continuous activity and application; one must strive relentlessly to fulfill every ambition; every hour of the day and the evening must be filled with intense activity. A hero should be up at dawn, following the news on the Shanghai stock exchange; they should jet to Hamburg for a morning meeting (working intensely throughout the journey) and then squeeze in a visit to a seminal exhibition at the Galerie der Gegenwart at the Hamburger Kunsthalle; in the afternoon they are back at the head office for tough negotiations concerning an urban development project in Sao Paulo – though they take a quick break for a video chat with their five-year old child, who has just had their first violin lesson; in the early evening they drop in on a gala reception at the Opera House, to have a quick word with the finance minister who is also attending; then there’s dinner with a group of major investors, where they’re presenting their strategic overview of next year’s expansion in India; when they get home they field calls from Boston (medical technology) and Tokyo (intellectual property rights); then they sit up late in bed going over papers on tax efficiency and family trusts.

The glamour of their life is constantly being reinforced: there’s an admiring article about their business in one of the financial weeklies; luxury adverts are aimed at them; their name is on the wall of them museum, as a major benefactor. Their life is immensely interesting and the whole world, it seems, envies them.

 
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Mindful

Mindful

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^ As in the busy life, the perfect quiet day might also start early: from the window we watch the dawn slowly colouring the sky above the houses across the street and slowly fading. We spend part of the morning organising the linen cupboard: folding sheets, stacking blankets, ironing a few napkins and arranging them neatly. Maybe next time we’ll go through our wardrobe and weed out the clothes we haven’t worn for ages. We’re at last bring order and harmony to our domestic existence.

As we’re going about our simple tasks we can untangle our thoughts and feelings. When we’re proccupied we don’t properly notice the details of our emotional states or what’s going on at the back of our minds. Now we start to pay closer attention: why did we fall out with that friend last year? Was it, perhaps, that we never particularly liked each other anyway? What did we really feel in their company? Who, ideally, would we like to be friends with? And what is it about them that appeals to us?

In the afternoon we take a long walk alone. We pass an old brick wall we’d hardly noticed before – it’s been weathered by the sun and the rain and delicately spotted with yellow lichen: how long has it been there, what has happened to the people who built it? It was probably rather stark and raw originally – time has been kind to it.
We pause to look carefully at a tree; the branches look bare, but close up we can see the first, tiny tips of green starting to emerge from some of the brown buds. In the past we only ever noted the big changes, now we’re registering the beautiful, minute steps, accomplished day by day that take it from one season to another.

In our slow days we have the time, and the patience, to notice what seem, at first, like small sources of pleasure. And as we appreciate them, we realise how big and moving they really are – and how much we missed out on when, in our busier time, we tried to do everything.

After a light supper, we lie soaking in a hot, deep bath. As the body relaxes and the mind is soothed, we meditate on what we really want to do with our lives. In place of the conventional aspirations which used to drive us we become sensitive to our own authentic ambitions. It could be nice to take up drawing; how might our relationship with our mother be improved; what kind of work gives us most satisfaction; what kind of relationship might be possible that could be really fruitful? We start to dig around in the neglected territory of our needs and longings and begin to think through how they could realistically evolve.
 

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