The holidays are done

The holidays are done

I have had two weeks off, and the world has seemed to join me in taking a break.

Empty streets and shuttered shops, fathers playing with their children in the woods, houses glowing lightly against the falling darkness. Freedom from the usual round of obligations, from the rhythms of the working year, from the demands of emails and customers, from the demands of much of my usual life.

It has been a quietly blessed time, time to be with my wife and my child, to spend a morning playing trains and an afternoon running around the library, time to sleep, to feel, a generous time, a luxurious time, a time that allows the knotted coils of daily life to disentangle a little, a time that brings me back to myself and into myself.

But Christmas is done now for another year, the new year itself is already receding into the past. I return this morning to the life I temporarily paused two weeks ago, to work, to the usual round of things to do.

Emails to answer, emails to write. Old customers to take care of, new customers to find. Preparing for the arrival, all going well, of child number 2. Which reminds me that we should probably find a different name for her, so add another item to the list. Preparing for everything that will come after.

Shopping. Cleaning. Repairing stuff at home. Putting curtains up. Raking the leaves. Shovelling the snow. Buying things. Selling things. Writing. Making videos. Developing a podcast. Design workshops. Deliver workshops.

Find time for a social life. Find time to be with Anni. Find time for Rahi. Find time for my mother, my sister, my friends. Find any time at all. Administrative things. Logistical things. Just all the bloody things.

Sitting at my desk, I notice how all this makes me feel - stressed. A tightness in my chest, a constriction in my throat.

There is such a damned lot to do and never enough time to do all of it.

"There is," writes the Trappist monk Thomas Merton, "a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence.

β€œTo allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence.

β€œThe frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”


I have just had a time of (relative) silence and stillness. And perhaps because of this, there is space in me to feel the truth of Merton's words.

But what to do about them?

The first movement of my mind is to resolve: well, let's change that! Let me not succumb to the violence of the modern world. Let me tend to my inner capacity for peace.

But then there is a second movement, and this one says: slow down. The attempts to change, the resolutions - they can sometimes be manifestations of the violence rather than solutions to it.

So, honestly ... I do not know what to do. I do not know how to find this place of inner peace, this root of inner wisdom, in the circumstances of a typically busy life.

I have, I believe, sometimes had glimpses of this place.

To remember this now fills me with an oddly beautiful sorrow, because it reminds me of what is possible while making me aware of how far away I am from it.

I do not know in which direction to move. So - very hard, this! - I will try to sit here and do nothing till I know.


My eye is suddenly caught by something. I look out, at the plants heavy with snow, and then I see her - a robin perched on a branch, peering inside. Orange, white, black, intense little eyes full of life. I hear birdsong, and I see birds swooping and whirling in the grey-blue sky.

And for no reason I can identify, I remember a line from T. S. Eliot.

Human kind, he writes, cannot bear very much reality.