Okay, play with me for a moment or two. Today is an “extra” day. It’s a leap year so today is February 29th, and we get three hundred and sixty-six days this year. Of course, we don’t really experience today as extra- it’s still the day after Tuesday and the day before Thursday, and all of our usual Wednesday appointments, tasks or deadlines still apply.
But. . . . what if. . . . you could have an extra day, a holiday that didn’t even count as a holiday, an extra day that was unexpected (no plans made) and open? What if you went to bed on Tuesday the 27th, woke up to and had your extra day and then, after a good night’s sleep, went on with plans and commitments for Wednesday the 28th?
What would you do with that “extra” day? How would you spend it? Where would you go? Who would you be with, or would you take some time alone?
Now, let’s expand this a little. What would you do with an extra week or month or year? What if you were given an extra year that didn’t cost you anything- you wouldn’t get noticeably older, your bank account would stay where it is (no miraculous windfall, but no spiralling into debt just because you weren’t doing the usual things you do to keep life and limb together.)
What would you do with a year of life that was truly open? When I first started to play with this idea I imagined I might go somewhere- Arizona or the south of France. But I realized that my fantasies of going somewhere else are usually fuelled by the hope of getting clear of daily responsibilities so I can write. If it was truly an extra year without those responsibilities, I might be more at home. . . . well, staying at home. (Although I wouldn’t rule out a mid-January trip to somewhere warmer.)
I decided to just sit with this and see what came, mostly for fun, but partly because I know that when we invite our imagination to participate in possibilities . . . . well, we learn something about our deeper desires and our inner longing, and we discover unconscious assumptions that are shaping at least some of how we live.
And here’s what came: If I had an "extra" day or year I’d sit still and follow the impulse to move when it came, following it and moving only as far and as fast as I could while keeping my connection to this impulse rooted in body, heart, and soul. I'd eat what I was hungry for when I was hungry stopping as soon as I no longer felt the impulse to put something in my mouth. I would sleep when I was tired, for as long as I needed, without consideration for the time of day or night. I would be still for as long as it took for the impulse to move to find me- reading, writing, walking, talking- only as fast as and for as long as I felt the impulse to continue. And then I’d stop- mid-bite, mid-stride, mid- sentence- and staying with the stillness, wait for the impulse to find me again.
I would go to the lake when I felt the impulse to be by the water; drive out of town without notice if drawn to, taking only what felt essential, not worrying about plans, letting the day unfold. I would buy the ingredients for a meal when I felt like cooking, perhaps packing it up and taking it to my sons’ or a friend’s to share if the impulse to do so arose. I would sink down into the centre of my being whether alone or with loved ones and wait for the impulse to speak, listening deeply within and to the other.
I have lived this way both on community meditation retreats and when I have set aside solo retreat time both in the wilderness and right here in the city. I have done walking meditations in the midst of rush hour foot traffic at Yonge and Bloor, a busy downtown intersection in Toronto. What I remember most about these times is how spacious they felt, how I leaned into trusting that what needed to be done would get done- and it did! I also remember how continuous connection with the still centre came effortlessly on some daya and on others, had to be consciously sought and found over and over.
And I cannot help but think that I have a choice right now about whether or not I live this way. Oh yes, I need to finish the book I am working on in order to pay my rent- but the best writing comes out of following the soul’s impulses, and I have some savings to carry me through the next year.
What fascinates me is how, even with some freedom and flexibility, I tend to set up internal structures, routines and obligations that make spontaneous living difficult even where it is possible. I dutifully post each day on Facebook and write my weekly blog. I enjoy it, but what if I wrote only and as often as I felt like it instead? I might write more. I might write less. Some days I am drawn to go for a walk but I go to yoga instead because I have paid my membership and need to justify the fee. So silly really. What I've learned when I've set aside retreat time is that if I am really slowing down and following the impulse from deep within I will get the amount and type of exercise, food and rest my body needs, I will find ways to release tension or be with anxiety if it arises, time to express joy and appreciate beauty, ways to lend a hand, be with others, and truly be with myself.
What my imagination shows me is the essence of how I want to live: in the service of soul, of life as I know it intimately within myself and the world, letting go of efficiency for love of the moment, the day, my life. Maybe it’s not about getting a magical “extra” day or year, but learning to move at a soul’s pace- our soul's pace- no matter what is happening around us. Who knows what magic that might make?