I love routines. I can happily eat the same breakfast for months, run the same route for years, and in so far as it is possible make each week similar to the one before it. When I first met Colin I was fascinated by his disregard for routines. He actively avoided creating them. He would wake up at different times and some days eat breakfast and some days skip it. He might exercise once a week or not at all. The thought of living without routine exhausted me. How do you know you can fit everything in? The reason Colin was able to live happily without routine was that he wasn’t especially concerned about fitting everything in. He knew that each day would contain some meals, some work and some sleep and beyond that things could happen or not happen and the world could continue to turn.
This summer we have been in constant motion and maintaining my routines has been impossible. We have driven across the country twice, the first time in two and a half days, and definitely a situation that does not lend itself to long runs, healthy breakfasts or quiet meditation. In the whirlwind of moving and traveling I have had to let go a little bit of my regular approach to life. I remember once reading an article about a guy who ran two miles every day no matter what. This meant that he had done laps in Newark airport, and would sometimes wake at two in the morning to fit his run in. Clearly for him this had enormous value but I can’t imagine how tightly gripped he would have to be around the daily run to make it happen regardless of circumstance.
We are starting to settle in our new house, the kids will go back to school in the next few weeks and I will be able to return to some of my regular patterns. There is certainly a part of me that is craving a return to an organized day — to know before it starts that there will be a time for play, rest and work. On the other hand, I have learned a lot this summer about just going with the flow of each day. I have taken some of the Colin approach: some days there is time for exercise, some days there isn’t. If you don’t make it to the grocery store on Saturday morning, or wash the sheets on Sunday, it’s OK; the world will continue to turn.
Families need structure, Colin’s more free form approach was perfect for him before we had kids, but after kids it led to enough “tardies” that we got a note home from the school district. When it comes to structure we have to meet in the middle. Were it not for him I would probably be unabashedly running in Newark Airport or doing down dog on the train platform. He has learned that when it comes to our kids the schedule can’t really be ballparked. If school starts at 8:20 that doesn’t mean any time before 9….
In Buddhism we talk about the middle path, “not too tight, not too loose.” I think this is the perfect approach to the rhythms of our new life. We can fit everything in, but we can also fit in some space. Somewhere in the middle of my highly structured tendencies and Colin’s free form is the middle path. The middle path means that there is time for work, time for play and time for rest. It just doesn’t have to be the same time every day — except for the 8:20 part. They aren’t kidding about that. If you are too tightly gripped around your routine it becomes a crutch, you may be fitting everything in but to some degree you are just checking boxes. If you are too loose, threads get dropped, kids are late, dogs go un-walked, and you can actually lose time scrambling to fit in the basics. So we are hoping to steer our family on the middle path, not too tight, not too loose.