Mindfulness: The Gift of “Away” Time Every Day

For the New Year, I gave myself the gift of ten days away on a personal writing retreat. I holed up in a comfy motel in a town far enough from home that I was out of reach, but not so far that getting there required a lot of time or money. 

It was great.

At the end of my solo retreat, I didn't want to go home. Or, to be more precise, I missed my sun-warmed, cozy house with its view of the peaks over the roofs of downtown. And the sound of the creek burbling under ice; my daily walks through nearby streets to do errands. My kitchen, my friends, and my bed. I even missed hearing the deer sneak past before dawn, hoofs clicking on ice.

I wanted to be at home, only with the same freedom, focus and lack of interruption I had while I was away. The same ability to ignore to-do lists and the ordinary details that require tending (laundry, paying bills, answering phone calls, going to the grocery store, responding to requests for my time, feeding the juncos…). 

With that sense that every day was a blank slate and I simply needed to dive into whatever called to me, without having to worry about deadlines and commitments. 

So I've decided to bring some of my "away time" home into my everyday routine. To open the metaphorical windows and doors wide, and let more creativity and flexibility in. To give myself more time for what I love. And to do what I need to do with more graciousness and appreciation. Washing the dishes or doing the laundry–even paying the bills can be restful and restorative, if I'm mindful and present as I do each task. 

Being mindful means stopping to smell the hyacinths blooming in a forcing vase next to a bunch of daffodils… 


To start, I'm reviving a simple word that has languished in the dark recesses of my everyday vocabulary: "No."

(The word is also no in Spanish, by the way. In the Gaelic of my Scots ancestors, it's usually expressed by changing the form of the verb to be negative, but there is an actual word for no: níl, pronounced like "kneel." In Norwegian, my other major language, it's com, pronounced just as you'd think, but with a hard 'c' at the beginning: "kum.")

My new resolve is not to say yes to any request. Instead, I'll give myself time to think by saying, "Let me get back to you tomorrow." And then once I've thought about it, my default answer will no longer be "yes." It'll be no or níl or com. No is an important tool in practicing a more realistic and sustainable pace for my work and life.

But doesn't "no" contradict my word of the year, "abundance"? 

In a word, No. (Sorry, I couldn't resist that.)

When I think of abundance, I think of it as plenty. As in plenty of time, plenty of energy, plenty of kindness and compassion, plenty of thoughtfulness and wisdom; plenty of verve and drive to do what I do best with my whole heart, mind, and spirit. 

If I say "yes" to everything, I feel harassed, exhausted, stretched too thin, cranky. None of which are conducive to living with abundance. 

So I'll practice saying "no" to those things that don't feed me. Those requests that aren't part of my core mission of healing this battered earth and our life-sustaining relationship with it. To those things that don't set my spirit to singing or at least shouting out loud. 

No. No. NílCom. Yes to opening new possibilities by not cluttering my time, sapping my energy and my mood, and by bringing more "away time" to my everyday life. Yes, said wholeheartedly when it feels right. 

Last night I said "no" to a social engagement and instead bundled up and walked down to the river after dinner and simply sat on a rock exhaling frosty breaths and watching the water go by, listening to its murmuring voice.

As I walked home, I identified the constellations, including my favorite, Orion, striding across the winter night sky with his dogs at his heels. And I slept well afterwards, soothed by that bit of away time, that practice in saying "yes" to my inner abundance. 

The Arkansas River flowing through Salida a few blocks from my house…