For most of my life I was ruled by alarms. I literally began each week day with a ring of some kind rudely awakening me from slumbers. Each morning I would struggle to drag myself out of the warmth and comfort of my bed and I felt sluggish and churlish for hours as I prepared for my duties either as a student, an employee, or a mom. I dreamed of a time when I would no longer be ruled by an ever demanding clock. I fantasized about mornings stretched out past nine or ten in a state of blissful sleep.
Ironically now that I rarely have an early morning appointment or deadline I find myself waking up well before the sun has even risen without the aid of any bells or whistles or buzzers. My body clock is all that I need and it happily pushes me from my bed with a kind of eagerness that I never experienced when outside forces were demanding that I leave my home before the sun had even arisen each day. It now only takes a few sips of my morning tea for my brain to begin working in tiptop form. I have created a new routine for the start of the day that is blissful because it is of my own design. My first few hours are packed with rather quiet activities that strengthen my soul, my mind and my body. Retirement now allows me the time to heal myself and ponder more on others. I have no need of an alarm to notify me that it is time to leave the comfort of my bed because I am excited about the quiet possibilities that lie ahead of each day.
I am an inveterate introvert. I gain strength from quiet contemplation, time to meditate on worries and concerns and determine solutions for them. I suppose that my big city lifestyle of rushing here and there each morning before I gained my present independence worked against my need for time for myself. Somehow I made it work but there was an underlying anxiety lurking inside my soul that made me chronically tired. I suppose that I wanted to stay in my bed each morning as a kind of refuge, an excuse for contemplation, a reason for not having to enter the rat race before my mind felt strong and uncluttered. Now, like Thoreau, I have my own Walden Pond in the comfort of my home. I have simplified, simplified, simplified the demands that used to keep me running on a kind of endless treadmill from one responsibility to another. It is so lovely to be able to finally be the master of my calendar and the captain of the structure of each day.
There is indeed a time and season for all of life and most of us spend so much of it in a rush from here to there, attempting to meet the demands of caring for family, work, community. We like what we have to do, but there is just so much of it that we rarely stop the cycle completing one task after another. Our calendars and day planners are filled with appointments that barely allow us to linger over a thought or a meal or to even notice a sunrise. We use alarms and warning messages to keep us on track. Even one deviation from our plans can throw us into a dizzying tizzy. We grow tired and out of sorts, out of shape. Something has to give if we are to be all things to all people and so we often choose to neglect ourselves rather than disappointing everyone else in our lives. We need those alarms to keep moving and we resent their nagging sounds.
Now that my alarm is my own voice I do not resent it. I allow myself the time to consider my own place in the universe. I have belatedly realized that I must care for myself first if I am to be of help to others. I have learned to slow my pace by saying the tiny word, “No!” whenever I begin to once again feel overwhelmed. It is a glorious luxury that I can now afford thanks to retirement but I wonder why I did not allow myself the time that I needed during all those previous years. I see young people managing to have it all simply by taking command of their lives and carefully parceling their time to include self care. They have already learned what it took me decades to discern.
I suppose that if I were to create the perfect alarm it would not be one pushing me from my personal refuge, but rather one reminding me of my duties to allow moments for myself. It would prompt me to mediate or pray. It would urge me to keep a balance between work life and home. It would sound whenever I was taking on more than I should try to handle at once. It would gently provide me with support for the things that I need to do to thrive as my best self.
I see young people rushing and pushing themselves just as I once did. They express frustrations over not being able to do all that they need to do. They shove their own needs farther back into promises of a future that never seems to come. They grow more and more out of shape physically, mentally and spiritually. The alarms bark at them as they wearily wander through routines that sap their strength. They want to just run away or hibernate or scream. They feel guilt and anger and a host of negative emotions that they cover with brave smiles and a veneer of false strength. They know that one last thing may make them break but they do not know how to make those bells and whistles stop.
I would tell them to consider what they really want or need and then begin to make the changes that will leave them excited about the dawn of each new day. The first step is to define themselves on their own terms, not on what others believe they should be. Then they can begin to declutter their daily schedules, leaving space for the unexpected and allowing for personal care as surely as they do for the care of others. To do this they must learn to set alarms to warn them whenever they need to pause or ask for help or just snooze a bit longer.
Life is short and unbearably uncertain. Our goal should be to make the most of each moment. Our alarm clock needs to go off anytime that we are in danger of neglecting what is most important beginning with ourselves.