It’s been a quiet month here. Not in London, on the blog I mean.
That’s partly because I’ve had 101 other things going on – writing elsewhere, preparing talks, working on a new project (watch this space), and other things that have taken up my writing time.
But it’s also been because I’ve felt ‘quiet’ inside. Content. Peaceful, I guess.
On the phone last week, my Dad said, ‘You’ve had a lot of evenings in recently.’ He was right. Usually I’m out as much as possible, keeping entertained, distracting myself with exciting people, with colourful drinks, with bright lights and with adrenaline hits. Often I’m restless, searching, dissatisfied, discontent.
There’s another kind of restlessness around, I think. A holy kind. One that stops us getting complacent and comfortable with a status quo that benefits a few and tramples on the poor and the marginalised. There’s a kind of right anger that keeps us moving, keeps us campaigning, keeps us working, keeps us speaking, keeps us marching, keeps us praying. A discontentment that keeps me writing.
In the last few weeks, that first kind of restlessness has become a little less dominant than usual. I’ve paused. Breathed. And I can’t tell you why, or if what follows is a list of causes or consequences of this sort of contentment – probably a mixture of both. But this is a little picture of what it looks like for me when there’s some degree of peace inside:
There’s time for my pre-work coffee, Bible and writing time, in my latest favourite coffee shop where the owner always remembers what I want to drink but never that I want it to stay rather than take away, and every day we chuckle about it.
When I open the Bible, my defences don’t go automatically up – I don’t expect to feel told off or alienated or outraged by what I read; I’m calm, and expect to be encouraged and inspired by what I read.
I look forward to time at home. I make home somewhere I want to be, put the effort in to tidying and cleaning, and putting up the lights around my bed and the photos on my wall.
The extra depth and richness of the colour of a proper cup of tea at home, compared to the inferior tea we make do with at work, brings a genuine moment of pleasure each time I see it.
I don’t feel guilty about allowing myself treats, especially after a stressful day or a disappointment.
I don’t take other people’s words and actions so personally – I’m more able to recognise that a friend who didn’t say hello to me was more likely to have been busy, or distracted than to be deliberately shunning me.
Outside is not just where I have to go to get from one building to the next, from home to work to pub and back again. It’s a place I go on purpose, to feel my ears freeze in the wind or to sit in the sun – with no purpose other than to be and to enjoy.
I look after myself. I eat and drink at the right times, I register for the doctor, I read books rather than screens, I sleep deliberately (not just when I’m too tired to stay awake any longer).
I don’t have to externally process absolutely everything. I can have a thought or a feeling and reflect on it alone, and that’s enough. I don’t feel compelled to act on every urge – to speak, to share, to seek immediate affirmation. Or to be a slave to any other impulse.
And when I talk to people, I’m less likely to over-share. I can keep a few things to myself. Sometimes.
That’s not to say I’ve spent the last month or so walking around in a perfectly contented daze, or that I haven’t had busy days and wild nights. It doesn’t mean that I haven’t felt sad or frustrated, that I haven’t had moments of craving attention like usual. But it’s been different. There’s a peace that I’ve been missing for a while.
I wonder if I, and if people who are in some ways like me, have been taken in by a narrative that, while compelling, isn’t true. One that tells us we’re like sharks – that if we stop moving, stop swimming, we’ll drown. I wonder if that’s the reason I’m so given to chasing those things, the exciting people, the colourful drinks, the bright lights and the adrenaline hits…
…Because I believe that if I stop moving, I’ll drown in loneliness, in insignificance, in some kind of existential anxiety.
It’s fun to believe, if exhausting. It’s reason to chase after the best that this city – and this stage of life – has to offer. Being young and free, with money and time and friends and just enough charm, this surely is what I should be doing. Living, spending, kissing, laughing, collapsing and repeating.
But it’s not a true story. It’s not the only way to survive. And it turns out that stopping doesn’t mean drowning. Being alone for a day doesn’t mean a wasted day. There’s deep pleasure to be found in the mundane and the ordinary, in the cup of tea and the glass of wine, the warmth of spring sunshine and the unexpectedly brilliant book.
Maybe I don’t need to try so hard, after all?
So here’s what I’m left wondering:
Can I keep the holy discontentment, the restlessness that motivates us to challenge injustice, the passion I see in my friends who campaign and work tirelessly for a better world…
…alongside a deepening contentment, a peace that passes understanding, a confidence that doesn’t come from arrogance or other people’s affirmation?
Can I be angry enough to change the world, while knowing real rest in myself?