Apportioning Our Time:
Buried in Work, or Busily Alive?
by Jesse Wolf Hardin
Looking up from my writing and out our cabin window, I see a wild river canyon that’s forever prodding me to play “hooky” from my schedules and responsibilities, calling for me to come outdoors and play. I easily imagine myself quietly removing the window screen, sliding out and making a dash for the trees the way I more than once escaped the uneventful, uninspiring and often suffocating classrooms of my youth. The difference, is that there is nothing uninspiring about the work I am pledged and given to, it breathes life into me and allows me to help breathe new life into the larger culture of my human kind, and can be too eventful if anything. The significance, importance, value and even urgency of this work of culture co-creation makes it always fulfilling, and much of it feels like play even if sometimes it can all feel like too much… too much for a couple of people, too much to get done in a single day, on schedule, or by a certain deadline. Even our much needed breaks are in one sense something else on the endless to-do list, another commitment to keep. There are always a zillion things we desire to do for pleasure, on top of all that we want to accomplish for other people or for some special purpose… and there definitely never seems like enough hours in the day to do it all.
Indeed, I write this on a morning when I have a Plant Healer Magazine issue to start laying out, art posters and article illustrations to create, new book of interviews to prepare for publication and announcement, articles to finish writing on topics meant to aid and inspire our community and the rest of our kind. My partner, Kiva, sits a few feet away finishing her latest blog post while simultaneously researching printing companies, looking for art and photos for the magazine, dealing with our accountant and head-numbing finances, providing free tech help for subscribers, and trying to catch up on 70 recent emails from folks who not only would like but deserve detailed replies.
In this day and age, it’s easy for an herbalist or anyone else to feel overwhelmed by all the tasks we’re expected to handle, from minding homes to tending careers and causes. As plant healers, we’re expected to “wear many hats.” We may need to plan and take wildcrafting trips, seed and water a garden or spend time ordering fresh quantities of the herbs we use, do the thoughtful work of making medicines or seeing clients, read or even write new herbal books, attend classes to increase our knowledge of the craft or else prepare to teach herbal courses that help inform others, create new ads for our products or add material to our websites… all while still trying to give quality time to our friends, our families, and our sometimes neglected or undernourished selves.
This is not only a quandary of the fast paced modern world, however. The historic homesteader had to get up before dawn to take care of the domestic animals before breakfast, cram the homeschooling of the kids in between household chores, taking care of a large enough garden to feed an entire family and still trade off a surplus, and cutting enough firewood with a laborious crosscut hand saw to keep the house warm at night. Hunter/Gatherer groups are believed to have had a larger proportion of unscheduled time than in any society since, and yet it seems that rather than choosing inactivity, they opted to fill their hours exploring new regions and new ideas, by indulging in new forms of art and reveling in new songs, actively developing a culture of mythos and beauty and not just necessity.
It can be tempting to wish we had enough income to pay for more help with our projects, enough to cover expenses without having to pay so much attention to business. We can see, however, that the most satisfied and fulfilled of people are usually those who truly enjoy doing what they are doing, who would do the same things even if there was no money in it and no one made them, who are motivated to do things for more than their own personal self. And we can see that while the wealthy have the greatest amount of “free” time, they are often the most dissatisfied, more bored than aimless suburban teenagers between school terms.
Besides, time is never really “free.” We are born with an undetermined yet finite number of hours in our mortal account, and since we don’t get to add the bank, it’s up to us how, where and why we spend the capital of our lives. We can tell we are taking on too much when our focus becomes diffuse, our tasks scattered and disconnected, with more projects in motion than unfinished… when we are losing our inspiration, or exhausting our essential selves. Otherwise, if we remain inspired about our work, excited about the possibilities, satisfied with the feel of our efforts, fulfilling our purpose or role and moving in the direction of our dreams, we may be crazy busy but we will not be depleted.
We don’t necessarily need to do less, only to consciously and responsibly choose what we do, whether we are intently laboring, consciously relaxing and nourishing ourselves, or giddily at play. The real issue is neither how much we do nor how fast our pace, but what we do: how meaningful, valuable, intentional, purposeful, pleasurable and satisfying our acts.
On several occasions, I’ve heard folks say that they “hate waking up to so much work,” but the only real alternative would be to never wake up. When we’re dead, we won’t be making any more cynical jokes on social media about imposing deadlines. When we’re buried in the ground, we’ll no longer have any reason to complain about being “buried in work.” In the meanwhile, let’s gladly get on with the work of being wholly, purposefully, intensely and – yes! – often quite busily alive.
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