The other day I bumped into someone I hadn’t seen for a while. She asked me how the year off was going and I was able to say, very pleasantly, thanks. That some days are full and other days quieter, that I’d got over the initial panic at having to fill my time and am largely contented now to let each day take care of itself. That everything was passing very nicely, but without necessarily having anything much to get the bunting out over. And she smiled and nodded and said, “A bit like a meditation, then.” Funny how other people can sometimes hand your thoughts back to you, beautifully wrapped. If I spend the rest of the year thinking of a word, I will not come up with a better one than that.
To clarify, the job I’m not doing just now is teaching. One of the odd things that happens to you in teaching, which no-one ever warns you about at teacher school, is that during the working year, you develop a mental ticklist of things to do. And who doesn’t, I hear you cry. True, but here’s the rub: no matter how diligently you work your way through it, no matter how many things you cross off, it never gets any smaller. Life takes place to a background of constant mental commentary about where you are and where you should be and what now, and it is exhausting. The gods missed a trick with Sisyphus – instead of getting him to push that rock up the hill, they should just have given him a job at Olympus Junior High.
It’ll come as no surprise, then, that I’ve noticed a change in my thought processes since I stopped working. Thinking certainly feels calmer, slower, more ruminative, like my brain’s savouring a particularly tasty and intriguing kind of mental pudding, slowly turning thoughts over and over, occasionally pouring a spot of custard over them, before burping out a satisfied conclusion. If the endgame of meditation is enlightenment, I can safely say I’m not there. But I think I heard the sound of a match sparking, and it let me see something. I’m very attached to my mind, me and it go back a long way: if work is messing with it, then I need to find a new way of working.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a grafter and (present circumstances notwithstanding) I always have been. I understand the formula that a decent standard of living is dependent upon hard work and I’ve applied this throughout my life. But, lately, I’ve done the maths, and, well, it’s no longer adding up. Too much hard work can have other effects too, not all of which are positive. So something has to change. Whether this is the work that I do, or how I approach it remains to be seen. It would appear I have some thinking to do.