Sometimes I feel like retirement has allowed me to become appallingly lazy. But really, it is just revealing to me what life might have been like all along if I had been able to obey the preferences and rhythms of my human self.
Most people can’t afford to live like natural human beings but, instead, we have to be superhuman. We have to do more than we are built to do, exceed our capacity, and live with the consequent stress. This is true whether we are on the edge of survival or prosperous cogs in the modern economic machine. This superhumanness becomes our natural state, what we expect of ourselves, so, when it is no longer required of us, we feel at a loss or guilty. This happens to me now and then.
As a retiree, I have the luxury of an economically secure life with few obligations except those I have chosen and been chosen by over the years, including a rich web of relationships with family, friends, church. I find myself now with plenty to do but not too much, and a great deal of freedom in deciding when and how I will do it.
Here is what I am finding about how this Natural Woman would like to live. Maybe it is because I live in a moderate climate but the rhythms of a natural life seem to tune with the changing seasons.
My new year starts right now, not on January 1 but in mid-January. I’ll explain why in a minute. The second half of January brings a burst of productivity and it is my time to start new projects. This has to do with New Years resolutions but also with the fact that my projects involve a lot of planning and writing and can be launched from a rocking chair in front of the woodstove–with a telephone and computer. This productivity is fueled by a lot of sleep and warm food. The darkness of midwinter is great for sleeping 9-10 hours under a down comforter in a cold room. I wake up with calm energy. Winter is for thinking, writing, and cooking.
I have to work really hard these few weeks, though, because the charms of winter wear off quickly and I like to go somewhere warm and sunny in February, the dreariest, longest short month of the year. This year a friend and I are planning a trip to South Africa. Hurray! I would say I can’t wait but that’s not true. I am in full January “let’s get things started” mode and I have a long list of things to do before that trip. Note: a long to-do list is not stressful during this brief period of productivity.
I would hate the dribbly end of winter in early March if it weren’t for maple syrup. Early March is when my brothers tap the maple trees in the ancestral woods and family members always gather at least one Saturday in the sugar shack to help. Honoring the ancestors, engaging in a family activity that has been carried on for generations, is a significant part of the life of this Natural Woman.
Spring brings another period of productivity, more sustained than the January burst. We are awaiting another grandchild this spring. Hurray! Since I will have a lot of other projects going at the time, things I started in January, I may have to be Supergrandma for a while but this will not be a problem because spring always raises my energy level.
Summer, given my preferences, is a time of activity but not necessarily productivity. Summer, above all, represents freedom. As a retiree I revert easily to the out-of-school mentality in summer. I want to spend time outdoors. I grew up on a farm and this was part of the natural rhythm of things. If we have to work in summer it seems a shame to work indoors. We should all go help the farmers. And have long evening parties. I have no problem partying till 10 and rising at 6 in midsummer. When I was visiting St. Petersburg, Russia, one summer I noticed that I needed hardly any sleep because it never got dark. People phoned each other at midnight.
Fall brings another period of productivity. I go “back to school” on my projects and on myself. (Self-improvement is always one of my projects.) I convene committees, take on church assignments, launch diets, try new exercises.
But then I need another big chunk of time off, from about the time of my birthday in mid-November to mid-January. This is holiday season. It is meant for religious observances, parties, festivals, family feasts. No serious business should be conducted during this time. When I was working I noticed that no work ever got done between Christmas and New Years, even though people were supposed to be in their offices. But really, the holiday season is much longer than that, and the fact that it is not creates a lot of stress–people have to observe the festivals and keep working. It’s a shame.
As a retiree I have declared this entire period off limits to serious work. I had to schedule a church committee meeting last December 15 and it felt like a violation of this sacred time. The meeting took place, the necessary decisions were made, but I didn’t get the notes out about the meeting until just now. That is because my New Years productivity begins in mid-January. The first two weeks of January are for resting from the holidays. Resting from the rest, if you will.
My natural rhythms allow for only brief periods of productivity and demand a lot of freedom, time off, and variety, as well as response to the rhythms of my natural surroundings. Most people’s work schedules and obligations don’t allow for much of this. But I wonder if our mortal bodies and spirits aren’t longing for it anyhow?