Changing gear and finding your pace

 

Like all aspects of our lives there is always a pulsating sense of time ticking away. I have been in Greece 5 weeks now and as a kind of everyday rhythm sets in I feel each day melt into the next. That’s why keeping a journal and writing a blog is helping. I want to remember not just what happened every day, but how it all felt and the thoughts this adventure has inspired.  We all have a creeping sense of our lives being crammed to the brim with tasks and responsibilities. Attention gets switched from screen to screen, and as an adult when was the last tie most of just sat there and did nothing. Not just tied to the bleeping devices, which rate and monitor and feedback our consumerist lives. Can you remember a time when you actually sat still, no device, no book, no newspaper – just being, staring into the distance and taking in your surroundings? At the same time there is pressure to do things, counting every sunset learn, explore use my time wisely, write, think, read be productive, be human, be responsible. I want to enjoy this aspect that having more time provides – the absolute luxury of being able to fill a day with everything and, if the mood strikes me, nothing at all.  Everything and nothing.

Or this can be what it is – a break from the everyday. Which quite frankly I think we all need. No it doesn’t have to be taking six months off, or even a week, and it isn’t about geography or location, or glitzy white sand beaches and frequently flier miles. This experiment is about how we live or don’t live, just existing in the margins between a serious of outlook appointments, screen blur and commuter rage. G and I had this joke when we sat in the kitchen eating beans on toast at 9pm (on a good night)– “our rubbish lives” we’d laugh, bleary eyes – answering work emails with one hand and forking in mouthfuls of luke-warm beans with the other. #livingthedream. But we’d let this happen. Like most yawn-some thirty-something professionals London called and we answered.  That old adage had come true, there IS a big difference between making a life and making a living.

I wrote the Annie Dillard quote “How we spend our days, is of course, how we spend our lives” in scrawly ballpoint ink on a yellow post-it note like a passing idea or a task to be ticked off on the never ending list. I stuck this quote to my desk monitor last February in 2016, a month into a new job – mainly just to remind me of the thoughts I had for some years now about the passing of time and fragility of life. Annie Dillard is a wonderful writer, in her book The Writing Life she talks about the trade-offs between presence and productivity, in dreamy life-affirming prose. Not in a big idealist dramatic “I’m gonna quit my job and travel the world” kind of way. My need to be reminded was more contemplative than that. It reminds me that every day is a vital part of that –no matter how mundane or banal it is, the culmination of these days are what makes up a life. That’s why I find it important to create a life that has time to explore how things make you feel, how you respond to challenges, to remind myself that there is only limited value in defining who you are with what you do.  That is something I have persistently struggled with. Holding up the career successes of friends and contemporaries as a mirror to my own life – the horror that ties itself up in knots when you meet someone at a work meeting that graduated about 5 minutes ago and already manages a team or heads up a department. I am such a late starter – I see the litmus test of career progression, having a fancy job title or six figure salary, which is apparently the real marker of ‘successes these days.  My negativity and cynical traits go into overdrive, comparing traits, education, status, all the things most people are too self-absorbed to even pay attention to.  I won’t resign myself to the scrap heap just yet. The truth is that everyone is different and maybe I need to release any self-inflicted pressure; because it isn’t a pace that feels comfortable.

Anyway, after a few months the note faded, and stopped sticking so it was taped to my monitor screen – taunting me. A colleague stood at my desk one day and after a discussion about one thing or another, she asked if I liked motivational quotes. I replied – well not really, I mean, I like things to remind myself how to live.

I’m glad it stuck around. You see it might be easier to just slide on through life. After all some of the the happiest people I know are the ones who seem to inhabit this fret-free existence, just take it as it comes, pay-rises, sweet promotions. “What’s the big deal” they say, exuding that confident ooze of an illusion of success.  The worriers among us don’t have this down, we are too busy looking around and frantically panting just to keep up.

But that is exactly what I am working on. Just being comfortable, even if that’s just where I am right now. And that is why this blog entry was meant to about finding your feet and being comfortable in your own pace, and I let it slip and slide into panic. Back in Easter week we borrowed the apartment’s mountain bikes (with our own helmets – yes, another wonderfully practical thing we packed!). As we set off, manoeuvring the busy streets of Hermoupolis, I realised I hadn’t ridden a bike for ages, probably close to 2 years. My own road bike has sat gathering dust in the attic. For someone who loved riding, even if it was a brief fascination that coincided with a slightly weird obsession with signing up for triathlons. I don’t know why all of a sudden I was ridiculously nervous on the Greek roads. I know this country is hardly renowned for road safety but I was all of a jitter. But slowly as we climbed past the harbour and up to Manna towards the airport the roads cleared out from cars and trucks and I felt more confident. Well until I heard the rabid dogs… as usual their job was guarding a factory and sounding vicious. But on the upside they encouraged me to find strength for hill sprints when I heard their barks! By the time we reached Azomlinos, the grey cloud was starting to lift and reveal a sunny Good Friday. People were walking around and some even swimming at the beach. We cycled through country lanes, past sheep dozing and chickens clucking merrily away. Many more barking dogs. But none chased us. On the bike you just slip into a gear that suit, nothing frantic, just one that pushes you and you control the speed. Maybe that’s what I have been missing, an ability to feel pace myself and enjoy the journey.

In a race you can only have one credible outcome – to win. Or maybe even have a new PB. But we are all racing ourselves against the clock, relentless peddling and the views going by so quickly we have no idea where we have been or what the destination should be.

Well our destination was just meant to be a nice amble to Azolimnos, which is one of the many little seaside villages and beaches that gently merge across the South East coast. We were enjoying the scenery so much we decided to keep going and see if we could make it to Vari, where there is a wide bay with a couple of tavernas. There were a few trying hills – one where I’ll admit we got off and walked to push the bikes. It was about midday by now, and felt much warmer in the sunshine when we finally arrived, flying downhill to the bay, the sea glittering turquoise. And in this moment, I remembered that post-it note saying ”how you spend your days is of course how you spend your lives” . Yet it was both the journey and the destination that proved equally rewarding.  Effort, beauty and serenity on the road. Each day is different, sometime pushing, sometimes finding your pace, looking forward and back.

The next few months will have days I remember and days that blur into the next, but the focus will be on changing gear, slowing down and switching off. Most of all, enjoying the freedom that life has offered.

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