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4 nourishing downtime activities


I like a good screen drama as much as anyone. I enjoy reading novels and non-fiction too. However, sometimes I wonder if I really want to fill my head up to such an extent with other peoples' thoughts and creations. When do I get to think my own thoughts? To day dream? Or just take some downtime to enjoy my own company, without thinking about anything at all? And perhaps to give my brain a space to process the vast amount of information I have already filled it with?


Here are a few 'me-time' activities I've recently enjoyed and found nourishing.


1. In praise of pottering


I forgot to prune my rose bush last year. Come to think of it, the year before too. I'd been glancing through the window for months at its spindly, dangerously listing form (by now at a 60-degree angle) thinking "I must tie that rose bush up". Such thoughts were accompanied by a mix of guilt and a touch of resentment at the "never ending" nature of gardening. It was one of those jobs that kept not happening.


Cue an hour of aimless pottering in the garden yesterday morning. I found myself tying the rose up, not because " I must" but because I happened to feel like doing it. The point of pottering is that there is little in the way of an agenda. It's all about going with the flow and doing whatever you fancy doing. Yet, interestingly, it was pottering that actually got the job done. I even enjoyed it.


2. A simple manual task


I've recently remembered that I enjoy sewing. Not the high-achieving 'Great British Sewing Bee' kind: I like to do 'good enough' sewing. No pressure. I’m not a fan of the culture where as soon as an item of clothing has a hole, we get rid of it and buy a new one. In addition, I like the way the repetitive nature of sewing creates a space for my mind to roam free. Today I set about mending the ripped under-arms of a much-loved cardigan. The thread isn't quite the right colour and the stitching is far from invisible. I don't think most people will notice, but if they do, it might even add to the charm of the garment. The Japanese call this 'wabi sabi': a well-worn quality of beauty in an old but pleasing object, especially one that has been lovingly mended.


Sewing may not be your thing. Maybe you love gardening more than I do! Or fixing up that old car. Whatever. Time spent on a simple manual task can be a welcome break for the brain from the information overload that most of us are exposed to on a daily basis.


3. Listening to music I hadn’t heard for a long time


Recently, I listened again to an obscure band whose album I had played obsessively as a teenager. ('Comus' is the name. Well, I did say they were obscure). As I sat back once again absorbing those deeply familiar songs, I alternated between a big smile and shedding tears. I couldn't tell you whether they were tears of joy or sorrow. Both, probably. Then, today, the hair on the back of my neck momentarily stood on end as I revisited an old Pink Floyd anthem. Perhaps I have been reclaiming some youthful part of me that had disappeared under the weight of adult responsibilities. Whatever meaning I might ascribe, the truth is, it felt good listening to those tracks.


What music have you not listened to for ages?


4. Do something mildly creative


Recently I made a birthday card for a family friend. I recommend this. There's no need for artistic perfection: they'll almost certainly appreciate that you went to the trouble.


If arty stuff isn't your thing, write a journal entry. Or cook an experimental dish with whatever ingredients are to hand. (It's the nature of experiments that they don't always go according to plan. Don't be disappointed if it isn't as faultless as you'd hoped). Or, get out that dusty guitar and have a twiddle. Or something else: you do you.


All of the above activities may be additionally enhanced if you can make yourself unavailable for a while. Could those potential calls and messages wait?


You might have detected a theme here: an absence of what I'm tempted to describe as the tyrant of perfectionism. Certainly, there are times in life for pulling out the stops and striving for excellence. But there are also times to let yourself off that particular hook. In any case - as with the rose bush - when you go with the flow, things often work out just fine.

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