Painting keeps me grounded. I enjoy painting the moments of our lives that are too difficult to describe in words. Often I listen to music that reminds me of a time or place to see what will evolve on the canvas. I can paint contentedly for hours, but recently my mind has been on overdrive, and I have not been able to create. My brain needs time to rest, and I find it difficult to escape the endless chatter of the daily routines.
For years, I have talked about having a website to showcase my work. My thought was that this would act as an anchor. And it has. I have done something I don't usually do. I have invested in something that brings me joy. I think this is tremendously important. When we have busy lives, and many other people and things relying on us to perform, investing in ourselves may seem indulgent. At least this is what I thought. But I think it is the opposite. By not spending time doing the things we enjoy most, we have less of our best selves to share with others.
I think we all tend to do this. We have beautiful parts of ourselves that make us feel whole, yet we push them aside for the sake of routine demands. It's okay, we say. We will get to it next week. Next week there will be time for me to do that super awesome thing that makes me feel alive and more fully myself again. Then next week comes around, and there are different shapes and sizes of the same kinds of demands that made us too busy the week before. Once again we find ourselves racing like hamsters on wheels going nowhere, sweaty and frustrated because somehow that super awesome thing that inspires us and makes us feel whole, has been placed on the back-burner once again.
This summer my best friend and I sat on the balcony together drinking wine and watching the sunset over the lake. We had waited six months for this moment and, while it was worth every second, we agreed we were tired. We shouldn't be frantically running ourselves ragged until the time we reach our next holiday when we can finally stop and breathe again. But I get it. Sometimes we have too much on. Yet, what are we risking when we never stop? What happens when we consistently relegate the very things that give us joy, the things that make us the unique beings we are, to the sidelines?
I have seen the faces of my hard-working colleagues brighten after they have invested time to create. Passion lights their faces after an afternoon discussing teaching with the students they love or having spent an evening singing to a supportive crowd or having had the weekend to cultivate their garden with care. They are energised to do more and give more because they have had the opportunity to invest time in the things that bring them joy. I write better and have so much more to offer when I have allowed myself time to create. When I worked for a community organisation, we would often tell our volunteers to make sure they took time for themselves before going out to help others. You must first put on your oxygen mask before assisting anyone else with theirs. We know this, but we forget. We get busy. And we suffer for it as do those around us.
I am as guilty as anyone else for trying too hard to do it all. A couple of years ago, my partner had to tell me to stop. I was working all…of…the…time. And when I wasn't working, I was talking about work. And it was taking a toll on our relationship. I wasn't making time for him, and I wasn't making time for myself either. I had worked so hard to establish my career, but now that I was in it, I risked losing the things that meant something to me. No job is worth giving up those you love. So my partner and I made some changes. We try to limit our work and "work talk" in the evening. We ensure that we have time for each other and ourselves on the weekends. Although we both still have weekends when our jobs demand our time, we try our best to give each other fair warning. We also agree to make up for it in different ways. It's not always perfect, and as I embark on another project that completely aligns with my passion, he recognises, I will need to devote more time to my art practice. However, he appreciates it is for something that brings me joy.
It is not easy to make time for yourself. How do you even begin? But what I do know is we have to try. It doesn't have to be significant. It just has to be something. Schedule it in if you must. We schedule our work responsibilities, childcare, and exercise routines into our calendars all the time, but carve out time for your self and your art. Maybe it's only ten minutes here or there when you allow yourself to do something that brings you joy, but it's a start. We need to hold a space for the things that make us whole again. Without it, we will die from the inside out.