On being more human(e)
I love slow mornings. Though I usually wake fairly early (on my own body-clock, not with an alarm), I take my time getting out of bed, sometimes reaching for my journal or a book first. Once I’m finally out from under the covers, I go from there to the bathtub where I also take my time (with a bath that sometimes includes Epsom salts). Eventually I end up in the kitchen, where I boil water for my tea and then have a late breakfast of yoghurt, fruit, and granola. Only after all of that do I open emails and my calendar and start to figure out what the day will require of me.
This is one of the many perks of working from home and owning my own business, where I get to decide when/if I start my workday.
I used to have lots of stories about how this makes me a lazy person and how I should be more disciplined and productive and how those people with strict morning routines (especially those that include rigorous workouts) are probably better people, but then I realized that those are stories I don’t need to carry anymore. They’re stories that I’ve been taught to carry by a capitalist system with an industrial mindset that elevates the value of grind culture and being obedient and “disciplined” workers. I don’t want that to be part of my life or the culture of my business, so I get to make my own rules. I’m always going to choose the “rules” that honour my humanity, my needs, and my own internal rhythms. (I put disciplined in quotation marks, because there are lots of other ways to bring discipline to your work without being attached to an arbitrary time clock.)
The further I get from a traditional workplace (it’s been ten years now), the more attuned I’ve become to my own natural rhythms and ways of working. As a writer/thinker/creator, I need lots of quiet time to process ideas and get lost in contemplation. I need slow mornings and long walks and/or bike rides to let my mind wrap itself around new ideas. Sometimes I need to check out of social media for awhile and be in conversation only with the voices in my own head (or with the squirrel currently perched on the branch outside my window). That’s not “wasted” time the way my socially conditioned inner critic sometimes tries to convince me it is. It’s actually very productive time, because it’s where my ideas are generated and played with before they end up on the page or in a workshop.
Because I intentionally carve out these times for myself, and I spend lots of time playing with ideas before sharing them with my readers or students, I also have rather remarkable capacity for high-intensity production when the ideas land in their more fully formed shape. That’s when it’s time to engage another of my favourite practices… I go away for a week, to a cabin or a place loaned to me by a friend, and I create a surprising volume of content – often working for twelve-hour days. That’s how I’ve written my book and created most of my courses – in short, intense, and focused bursts (that follow long, slow, meandering times of contemplation).
I have learned that these ways of functioning likely mean that I am on the spectrum for ADHD. As some have said, “attention deficit” is probably a misnomer and it should instead be called “attention dysregulation” – because people with ADHD might have a deficit of attention at times, when they’re doing things they don’t love to do, but then they become hyper-focused when they’re doing something that they love to do (as when I’m alone with my ideas in a cabin in the woods, or I’m building something with wood).
I feel privileged in that I have the opportunity to craft a life that works well with my own internal rhythm and the way my brain works. It not only serves me well, but it allows me to serve other people well. I have more capacity to hold space for other people because I am well-resourced and in a rhythm that fits me. And I have the capacity to adjust the rhythm of my days so that I can do things like meet my family’s needs and spend time with friends during times when they are available.
Many others are forced to live with rhythms, rules, and structures that don’t fit them nearly as well. Sometimes, in fact, there’s a certain violence to the way we try to force humans to fit into mechanized structures – especially when those humans are neurodivergent or disabled or otherwise disadvantaged by those structures. Our systems lose their humanity and begin to assume that we are all machines that need to function in a prescribed way in order to keep the system functioning well. And when we don’t function that way, the system creates narratives that shame us into thinking we are deficient and have less value because of it.
I wonder what it would look like to build systems and workplaces that do a better job of honouring human rhythms, capacity and needs. I wonder what we’d need to change in order to value people as they ARE rather than as we EXPECT them to be. I realize that in certain industries it might not work, but far too many workplaces still function as though every workplace is a factory that produce widgets rather than a place focused on serving the needs of real and complex humans.
As Krista and I build the Centre for Holding Space, we are doing our best to keep humanity at the centre of our organization and to disrupt any of the old patterns that have been normalized by capitalism but that might not serve us well. Sometimes we have to dig deeply and do some uncomfortable work to uncover our own social conditioning about the “right” ways to do things, and sometimes it’s easier to just accept “the way things have always been done”. But we know that change doesn’t come without some measure of disruption, and so we’re doing our best to walk our talk.
I encourage you to consider how your life might have been unknowingly structured by systems that don’t put your humanity at the centre. Perhaps you’ve bought into a lifestyle that doesn’t match your rhythm or capacity? Maybe you’re inadvertently doing violence to yourself because of the social conditioning that’s taught you to assume there is no other way?
I believe that this is one of the gifts of this pandemic. It has allowed us to re-imagine workplaces and expectations around how and when people will work. If we pay attention, and open ourselves to change, perhaps we’ll find ourselves moving into more human-centred environments.
Even if you’re not in a position to change how, when, and where you work, perhaps there are changes you can make to your life to honour yourself more? Maybe it’s a simple matter of accepting that you have a different rhythm than other people and that doesn’t make you wrong? Maybe you need to wake up later (or earlier), move more (or less), slow down (or speed up), spend more (or less) time alone, be in nature more, and/or find new ways to engage your creative energy?
It’s your life – how do you want to live it?
p.s. If you’re part of a workplace that wants to be more human(e), perhaps we can help you? Check out our Holding Space for Organizations page, and be sure to watch our free video series, Love Letters for Those Who Hold Space.