At the beginning of the pandemic, it suddenly all happened very quickly. When rumours already had it that schools might close down, one-by-one our appointments were cancelled: First, a birthday party, followed by a workshop organised for our neighbourhood, my son's hockey match, my husband's dinner with colleagues, a work-related trip - and could we actually still meet with friends?
In the end, all of our appointments and plans for the coming weekends had vanished into thin air. Our agenda, empty. We went into lockdown.
Admittedly, what remained - besides considerable uncertainty, diffuse worries and disruption of our daily life - was a strange feeling of relief and freedom. No more running. Finally. Time for us.
Don't get me wrong, this article isn't intended to look at the pandemic through rose-coloured glasses. It has been and still is an extremely tough time. But even though at the end of lockdown, I had severe doubts whether I could still think straight after weeks of home office combined with home schooling, I still remember my off-the-cuff reaction in March; this sense of relief while burying my agenda deep down in a drawer.
Planning, planning, planning
Living in today's world without planning is hardly possible. Depending on what you have to plan, it might be stressful - but planning things in life, setting goals, being full of anticipation can be great, too. Planning involves people around us and the pandemic has shown how much we need to have people around; how social human beings really are. We need to exchange, be in touch with others, share stories. I love meeting people and travelling to see friends and family and discover new places. Not for all the world would I want to give it up. Together with others, we create experiences and memories that carry us through life.
However, the lockdown made me realise once more how crowded and frantic daily life can be; and how difficult it was to slow down the pace, to get out of the rush. Our (family) agenda seems to have a life of its own and fills up before I can find an answer to the question how many appointments, events and short/medium/long-term plans are needed to turn them into a burden. Where is the balance, the turning point where the lightness becomes heavy? At least for me, this is not an easy question to answer. Lots of events and meetings are enriching – if you take them separately. If you have too many of them one after another though, it gets stressful or overwhelming. So, again: how can we find the right balance? How much "me time" is helpful? How much "us time" do we need as a family and in a partnership? How much am I available for dear friends?
Whether we live alone, with a partner, our parents or in a family with kids – it can be tough to find serenity. Time and again, we have to set priorities, recognise our own needs and expectations while being faced with a demanding job and a multitude of interesting offers of how to spend our time.
Let life surprise you
"Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans", John Lennon once said. Sure, unexpected things can occur to us and sometimes, life takes surprising turns. For me however, this sentence also calls on us to let go of the planning, to allow life to come to us, in the present moment, as it is.
Because being busy making plans becomes problematic when we are living so much ahead of time that without realising, we miss out on our life. Continuously making plans means losing sight of what is here right now, and to lose freedom. If we tie ourselves down for the coming weeks, months, years, is there any room left to decide on the spot what to do, just because it feels right now, in this moment?
Planning life gives a feeling of having things under control, having a structured and fulfilled life. And to a certain extent this perception is normal, as a life without any structure, plans or daily routine leaves us disoriented, feeling as if we do not really belong to society. Many experienced this when they suddenly lost their job during lockdown. But then again, in normal times, the feeling of control through planning can easily bounce back when our agenda fills up to a point that we are hopelessly over-booked. How long do we keep control and when does it turn around, and our agenda starts to control us?
Mindfully clearing out
Probably, finding the right balance between planning and spontaneity feels different for each one of us. Mindfulness though can be a useful support, a lighthouse to give us guidance in difficult moments when we notice it is becoming too much, when we are rushing from one thing to the next or when the head tries to live its own life in the future. Mindfulness gives us the opportunity to pause, to tune in and listen to what feels right in this moment. When we take a conscious break, our mind is given the chance to slow down; our thoughts become clearer, our focus improves, and we can readjust our compass. How much planning do I really need? Are there patterns to be found in my planning that don't feel helpful - maybe old habits or routines which I feel shouldn't be part of my life anymore? Sometimes, taking this distance to have a fresh look at your own agenda can be an eye-opener.
When public health measures finally eased up, it felt wonderful to make plans to see family and friends again. Still, living in a global health crisis will remain a challenge in the coming months and lots of questions remain. What is allowed and for how long? When can we discover the world again with ease? For the moment, we have shifted towards short-term planning and are exploring what that entails. We have gained confidence in letting the days unfold themselves. Trusting that we will have enriching experiences – without always planning weeks ahead.