There really is something to be said about the power of surroundings. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that as a race, human beings have created distinct locations for different parts of our lives to take place. We have a separate building for prayer and worship than the one we live in, or at least a separate room if we can. We don’t often bury our dead in the same yard where we host summer barbecues. We don’t have the tables where we eat most of our meals in the same room as our beds (obviously if you live in London or Manhattan you can just laugh at that statement because having more than one room is a luxury). We compartmentalize, we separate, we distinguish.
Recently I undertook a complete redecoration of my office. The walls were dirty white and streaked or scuffed with god knows what, the furniture was second-hand fake wood veneer, there was no storage, and the whole vibe of the room was one of…disarray. Shockingly, it didn’t take all that much to drastically change the feel; $200 at Ikea for some new shelves, space rug, and decor; $35 at Walmart for flat grey paint and brushes; $15-$35 here and there for candles, everlasting floral (I prefer that term to “fake” hehe), and a new lamp…BOOM. It’s like an entirely new room. It’s so inviting and comfortable that I have caught my boyfriend in here reading when I’m not home, despite the fact that he’s fairly averse to pink.
It took me a few weeks since I don’t make much money, but I spend so much time in this room that not enjoying being here would make it really unpleasant to do my job. Now, I simply love being in my office.
It occurred to me the other day that while it may sound silly, there is ritual in everything we do, even the most mundane daily tasks. So why is it that we reserve the ceremony surrounding rituals almost exclusively for worship? In fact, introducing a feeling of ceremony in more aspects of our lives would probably make us slow down and appreciate the moment more; it would give us a reason to stop, take a deep breath, and acknowledge where we are.
I decided to put the idea to the test, and created a small “ceremony” for myself that I would perform before I began to write. Most writers know that there is nothing more difficult than making yourself sit down and simply write, without first doing laundry, or eating, or checking Facebook, etc. I thought that perhaps identifying the very moment when it was “time to write” would help me to define that block of time and give it distinctive boundaries.
Here is what I did: I put on my pajamas, turned on Pandora to a baroque station, put a fireplace screen-saver on my computer, put a 1 hour timer on my phone and set it out of reach on the windowsill, and lit a candle. Instead of writing on my computer I had decided a notebook and pen had far less potential to be distracting.
It was incredible. In one hour, I got more brainstorming and ideas rolling around than I had in months. The atmosphere made my mind wake up, calmed the voices that always pulled me in six different directions, and focused my attention like a laser. An hour went by so quickly that I thought I’d set the alarm wrong on my phone.
I decided to try something similar with podcasting, and the same thing happened. I was in the zone, in every sense. And when it was time to stop, I stood from my desk and blew the candle out…and that was it. Podcasting time was over. There was no sense of that work following me out to the living room like there sometimes was. It felt as absolute as if I were closing a book and putting it back on a shelf, almost as if blowing out the candle was like hitting the “Power” button to shut everything down.
It’s a common lament that people spend so much time on their phones that they miss their actual life passing right by them as they stare at a screen, imagining a different life entirely. The issue with blaming the phones themselves is that phones aren’t going anywhere, so how do you solve the problem?
I think that I’ve hit on an aspect of it: set boundaries. It’s easy to just tell people “pay attention”, but as human beings we need more clarity, a more definitive start and end to things. I believe now that ceremonies are a beautiful, interesting way to define those beginnings and endings. Ceremony connects with us in a way that mere words like “Now it’s time to write!” simply don’t. When my boyfriend and I watch movies we have been lighting a candle on the coffee table and putting our phones in a basket on top of a bookshelf across the room. The difference in experience is startling, and has so much more depth than it ever did before.
I hope that these ideas have resonated with someone out there. For now, it’s time for me to go blow out my candle and make a cup of tea. See you next time.