This had been my schedule: Wake, pray, and then read scripture, and blog about it, or whatever the Holy Spirit is bugging me about. This took about two and a quarter hours.
After which I did some housework and decluttering for an hour. Then gardened, another hour. Then a walk for over an hour, after which I settled down to literary writing, working on my memoir and a short story, until nightfall–with breaks for meals, and to hang out with Irene and Roy.
However, with this long mid-day break, my memoir and story was getting squeezed.
So I cut the gardening, cut the housework, reduced the walk.
* * *
And my life became hugely less satisfying. Turns out I needed the time tidying my house and getting rid of everything “not beautiful or useful.” I needed the hour in the garden. I needed my long walk.
These were times when I unconsciously process and come to terms with, or find solutions for, my life’s minor frustrations, just as the unconscious mind does when we sleep. These were times when ideas come, and when I pray, and when my vision jells for the next hours, days and weeks. They can even be times of revelation, of hearing and sensing God.
So cut all those blessed times in which I was a human being, and not a human doing; in which I was a body and spirit and emotion-full being, and not just a mind; cut those times to stretch, relax and move—and what happened?
* * *
Well, for a few days, I fell apart. I did not get any more writing done, probably less. I could not wake early. I did not sleep well because I was curtailing my walks. I was gaining weight as I sought the comfort in food, the comfort which my walks, gardening and domestic puttering around were giving me. (Obviously, the metabolic boost of the 3-4 hours on my feet was controlling my weight.) Even my spiritual life felt less full and rich and satisfying as I cut out these precious times of hearing God, and chattering or grumbling or agonising to him.
Bill Johnson says, “The night belongs to the Lord,” a time in which we are passive while he heals, restores, and sometimes speaks to us. Well, manual work is a similar time, when our busy mind rests, our body works, and God can speak to us, as can our creative unconscious.
We are quadripartite beings: Mind, body, spirit, emotions. We cannot short-change our bodies, without it affecting our mind, spirit and emotions. We cannot be an island, neglecting contact with family and precious friends without it affecting our work, and our health and our spiritual lives. We cannot neglect our spirits without it, sooner or later, affecting our relationships, and perhaps the acuity of our intellectual lives, and even our health. And I’ve read several studies which suggest that keeping intellectually active, learning new things, contributes to physical health.
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Holly Gerth graciously sent me her book, “You are Made for a God-sized Dream.” She says, “It’s important to work as hard physically as we work mentally and emotionally, or we get out of balance.”
I think the rule of St. Benedict has something to teach all Christian creatives. Glancing at the published schedules of Benedictine Abbeys, I see balance—three hours of private and communal prayer; three hours of lectio divina or spiritual reading, and five hours of manual labour.
The manual labour was essential to balance the rigours of prayer, reading and contemplation, and to keep the mind and spirit sane, and the emotions sweet.
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I find I need that. I need the physicality of keeping a house somewhat orderly (though I do have a cleaner, who helps with housework too, for a few hours a week). I need the physicality of working in my garden (though I do have gardening help, or our 1.5 acre would swiftly revert to jungle). And I need exercise, which alas, no one can do for me.
However, as the authors of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise, which my husband has been reading with much interest say, “If we make the time to exercise, it makes us so much more productive and leads to such improved creativity, cognitive function, and mood that the time we need for doing it will open up and then some–making us so much happier and better at the art of creation, to boot.”
Gain by losing; gain time by losing it: the paradox that underlies Christianity, and life.
* * *
I am experimenting with Donald Miller’s new Productivity Schedule, which he developed after reading twenty books on creativity, writer’s block and productivity.
I haven’t yet found a schedule that works perfectly for me, so I am excited to try this. It’s 90-120 minutes of work on writing projects, and then a break to garden, tidy my house and have a long walk, followed by more writing. I think it will be a great way to weave physical activity into a day of spiritual and intellectual and creative pursuits.
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