The Stillness of Effort

My past five days have been incredibly busy.  I’ve had my twelve year old niece visiting and, as this is the first time she’s ever come solo for a visit with me, I wanted to make sure she had the chance to have loads of fun and experience what Halifax has to offer.  We went to the Discovery Centre, a lighthouse, a play in the park, a wildlife preserve, to the movies, to the mall (in one of those trips covering all three floors), bowling, the international buskers festival – twice, and out for ice cream, cinnabons, and dinner.  We’ve been so busy that this morning when it was nearing 11 and we weren’t out the door yet (because I had a phone meeting I had to wait for) she said to me, “You know, we’re getting a pretty late start to our day – we should get moving.”

We also went to a 19th century farm museum. Ross Farm Museum. Located in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere it was definitely a throwback to another time and another way of life.  The museum is on an old acreage.  It features a farmhouse, school, mill, barns, blacksmith, cooper shop, workshop etc.  At each building actors dressed in attire from the 1800s go about their day, displaying to visitors the time, effort, and technique needed to do all the tasks of living that we take for granted.

We watched men loading cut logs and branches onto a cart pulled by oxen – let me tell you, oxen (or at least those ones) do not move fast! We talked to a woman who was doing the braiding for a straw hat – she said one hat took between 80 and 100 hours of work – I recall seeing hats that looked pretty similar on sale for about $15.  Obviously those weren’t hand made but still – there was a time when if you needed a hat hand made was your only option – I’m sure the cost of them even then would in no way compensate for the time spent.  We learned how butter was made – again a process that could take a few hours or more . . . I get frustrated when there’s no butter left in the container I keep in the cupboard and I either have to wait for it to thaw a bit, have it mess up my bread from being too hard, or pop it in the microwave and risk melting it – oh the struggles I face!

The interesting thing was, and I know the people are employees there, that despite the effort everything was taking everyone seemed so at peace – so relaxed.  One of the girls said braiding hats was her favourite activity.  The blacksmith – despite the heat – seemed incredibly content to spend his day making hooks. I wonder as well, if I could attain a sense of peace and relaxation if I accepted the tasks I do need to do and rather than try to rush through them, take some time to just be in the moment and savour the simple pleasure of accomplishing something necessary in my life.

Being on the farm also made me consider how busy I often feel my life is.  Some of that busyness I happily create for myself – such as the active few days I’ve spent with my niece.  But at the same time, in the midst of that busyness, I’ve not found the time to keep up with those necessary daily tasks – dishes, vacuuming, picking up clutter- yup – that’s about it.  It’ll probably take me an hour to finish everything and it feels like it will be a sacrifice to give that much of my day over to something as mundane as housework when I could be having fun.

And then I think . . . my gosh, how lucky I am!  How lucky we all are, and how we must waste and squander so many of the hours modern conveniences have afforded us.  Most of those dishes will be cleaned by a machine.  When I cook dinner tonight I won’t have to do anything to cook our spaghetti except defrost the meat, flip a switch that will immediately heat up my pan, dump the meat in, cut up some vegetables, and (because I feel like being quick), grab a prepared bottle of sauce.  I’m sure even when my mother was a child it would have been a much lengthier process.

So what do we do with all this extra time?  Sometimes I definitely spend it well – building relationships with people, cultivating my mind, creating works of art, focusing on having a strong and healthy body but for a lot of that time I really do nothing worth while – I watch tv, I peruse facebook (often mindlessly), and, worst of all, I waste time fretting about how busy I sometimes am!

And so, next time I feel too busy and I start letting that stress me out or get me down I’m going to think about how lucky I am that I don’t have to make my own clothes, then wash them by hand.  When I feel the day hasn’t afforded me enough time to write or read for pleasure I’m going to realize how amazingly lucky I am that I actually have time multiple times a week to do those things!  And finally, next time I sit down and start mindlessly watching something I’m not even interested in on tv I’m going to reassess and spend my leisure time doing something that will add to my life in at least some small way.

For another perspective on being busy in these modern times check out “The ‘Busy’ Trap” by Tim Kreider of the NYTimes.  I came across this article several months ago and quite enjoyed it.

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