Ahh, free time! I’ve known for days that I’d have a few hours on my own this evening. Michael was to be off at a pub playing traditional Irish music with his friends and wouldn’t be back until late. A whole, spacious evening to myself. Imagine what I could get done!
Here’s what’s been going on in my mind: That will be the perfect, uninterrupted block of time to catch up on work. And I can finally plant the basil, oregano, and sage that are waiting in their pots out front. I should refinish my new jo (wooden staff) so I can start using it at the dojo. I’ll pick up groceries after open mat, get my laundry going, and make a big salad. When it cools off maybe I’ll take a walk-jog around the neighborhood. And I have to deposit a check, pay a few bills, and get the dishwasher going. I could write for a while, practice guitar, or watch some Aikido videos.
If that sounds like enough to keep me busy for a week, you’re right. The me who writes to-do lists and manages my calendar is an ambitious optimist. Task triage is an everyday occurrence. And even with modest plans there are all kinds of little things that interfere. Shopping took longer than I imagined. It’s too hot for a walk, and it’s staying that way. Michael’s plans changed, too. He’ll be home hours earlier than usual.
In the end I’ve managed to buy groceries and make my salad. It looks like I may have a enough time to finish this post – if I hurry – and feed the cats. I’ll have to catch up on work during the week. Laundry can wait until morning.
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There is something about having a discrete amount of free time in my sites that lends itself to overcommitting. Or over-planning, I suppose. I imagine that left to my own devices for an entire day I will be able to finally clean out the garage, go for a hike, train with my friends, shop for groceries, make myself a healthy dinner, and get to bed at a reasonable hour. A whole week on my own? Maybe I could go for invigorating walks every morning, then spend a solid chunk of time writing before focusing for hours on client work. I could complete all those unfinished projects, declutter my life, write in my training journal, get in touch with old friends, and develop better life habits I’ll carry with me for years.
In the same way that one can spend gift or bonus money several times over, I find it all too easy to dream up multiple conflicting uses for a single block of time.
I forget to allow for the mundane details of life — hours spent updating software, the time it takes to shower, dress, unload the dishwasher, make coffee, and eat breakfast, the unplanned hour of effort required for cleaning up the from an ant invasion in the kitchen or unclogging the drain in the bathroom sink. Add an important long talk with a friend or an urgent trip to the store for cat food, and before I know it, my day or week is coming to a close. I may have only gotten a few of the things on my list done. If I’m lucky. Add to the mix one minor disaster – a computer issue, unexpected household maintenance chore, or a tight muscle or mild head cold, and things fall apart even more quickly.
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This isn’t a new pattern. In the late 1990s Michael and I went to Ireland for a vacation. Two whole weeks with nothing to get in our way! We figured we would drive for a few hours each morning, arriving in the next small town with plenty of time to settle into our B&B, enjoy the afternoon, and see the local sites. I would find a hack stable and go horseback riding, then we would have dinner together before Michael joined in playing music at the local pub.
That was the plan, anyway. The reality was that travel between each town was slow. We were late getting out after breakfast. The roads were small and winding, and there were things to see along the way. For the first couple of days we skidded into town after the shops had closed, just in time for a quick bite before hitting a pub for some tunes.
We quickly realized we were attempting too much. We cut out every other stop to allow a full day in each town. Even at that, our trip was rushed and hectic. During my probably once-in-a-lifetime visit to the best horseback riding country in the world, I only managed to arrange two hour-long hacks. On top of it all, we both got brutally ill with some kind of respiratory ailment the last few days, coughing so badly we feared we must have kept the whole house awake. So much for fitting everything into just two weeks.
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Now, 20 years later, here I am looking forward to my nidan exam – the test for second-degree black belt. It was originally scheduled for early December 2017, which seemed like time enough to prepare. I’ve known for a couple of months that I would be testing around the end of the year. I have been giving myself time to pause, looking inward, considering what I want to demonstrate, and what I want to get from this period of intensive training.
Then circumstances changed. The date was pushed out to late February 2018 – coincident with a big seminar. Almost three additional months to train. All that time! Eight months from this weekend. Eight long, glorious, spacious months, filled with potential. All the time in the world.
Just think of it! I’ll be able to really polish my empty-hand techniques. Kaeshi-waza (reversals) will feel natural and smooth. I’ll spend weeks refining my weapons work, even the partner practices. I’ll demonstrate responses to some attacks we don’t do as often, just to spice things up. And meditation – of course I’ll be doing that regularly. I’ll even get the sleeves of my gi hemmed, and well before my test, too, not at the last minute.
Uh-oh. Where I have seen this before?
Maybe this is the real challenge. Maybe that’s a breakthrough this phase of my training holds for me. To envision a reasonable amount of work. Of course I’ll train diligently. Of course I’ll aspired to do my absolute best. But maybe I can devise a plan that allows for the intrusions of reality, one that supports me in calmly accomplishing exactly what I set out to do. That would be a real achievement.