A Practical Table: Natural Rhythms as a Path to Peacefulness

My Prince (finace) and i have gotten into a recent habit...exchanging "habits" as gifts. For Christmas for example he gave the gift of commiting to be becoming neater (becuase he knew that was something i wanted) and i gave him the gift of commiting to find ways to live on less (becuase i knew that was something he wanted). And its been so nice to see both of those habit gifts unfolding over time. But then came his birthday recently, and i have commited to learning to have dinner at a decent hour, something he really wants...his ideal is to have dinner, as a general rule anyway, at 6. And i have to say this one has been much harder, to say the least. I tend to be a real night owl/later riser, and breakfast can honestly get eaten when some other folks are eating their lunch. So dinner at 6? It just almost never seems to happen.

Yet when it does, it is so relaxing! When it does, the rest of the evening is just so peaceful and relaxed and i wonder why i don't do this everyday. When it happens a nice walk gets taken after dinner, and when coming back in the door there is this feeling that the day is done, that a whole peaceful night stretches ahead now, for reading, for games, for talking, for...peacefulness. Something about having dinner at its natural time gives that feeling, that "day is done" feeling that i otherwise find so elusive. And now that i've made this commitment to having dinner at a good hour, well it has to head in that direction now anyway. So why should something so beautuful be so hard to get in the habit of doing?

Then today i came across this post at Et Tu and long to point a big arrow over to it, saying "what she said". She was explaining how her husband wanted to try living without artificial light, and so they tried using candlelight at night. She became frustrated when the things she normally did at night (like dishes and laundry) were so hard to do this way, and frustrated that the candlelight was making her sleepy earlier as well. She was telling her husband all this...when on came the lightbulb (or rather the candlelight, smile):

"Look," I replied. "The only way we could possibly do a couple nights without artificial light would be...oh." Something dawned on me as I spoke. The only way we could get by on sunlight and candles alone would be to completely, totally rethink our expectations for what we could accomplish; to have all major work completed and cleaned up by sunset; to attempt only quiet activities like reading or sewing or family time in the evening hours...to live like our grandparents lived. We'd have no choice but to slash our to-do lists and our expectations of what we could get done in a day. We'd have to get up early and work purposefully and diligently to get the most out of the fleeting daylight. Feelings of panic and rush would be futile since we'd live with a clear sense that we cannot create more working hours than the light allows, that the sun is going to set when it sets, and there's only so much we can do. Life would have a distinct daily and seasonal rhythm.

It would be pretty peaceful...

Life before modern technology was full of hard stops: the work day ended at sunset -- if you didn't finish laundry during the day there was no going back outside to the washboard at 9:00 at night; the work day began at dawn -- if you got breakfast on the table an hour late that was precious time cut out of you and your family's very finite workday; even finances had hard stops -- when you spent your last dollar there were no tempting "0% interest for six months!" credit card offers waiting in your mailbox. And with a life full of hard stops, even the most disorganized, scattered people must have been forced to have some kind of routine, and to limit their to-do lists. Even people as inept at time management as I am must have been gently reminded to get to a stopping point and wind down their projects each day as the sunlight began its slow retreat from the sky.

When I considered also that in many times and places people lived in small villages where the community undertook activities together -- e.g. the men all went out to work the fields at the same time, the women did the washing and cooking in a community area at the same time -- I started to think that maybe one of the reasons so many people feel scattered and overwhelmed these days is because we're just not meant to have to create our own schedules. Humans are used to powerful forces beyond their control like the availability of light or the momentum of community activities structuring their days."

I keep reading this over and over...becuase it feels so true. Becuase when we think about it, GOD gave us our natural rhythms, as a precious gift. And what do we do, we try and override them. More and more i am longing to embrace them instead. Its part of that draw to "iconic" living too, living thats like making an icon...when one makes an icon one is following a well worn sacred path rather than creating anew, and that following surrounds a person, holds them, guides them, moves them ...and comforts them too when it comes down to it. Its limits are actually....a precious gift.

Back to the focus at hand here, i know this habit of eating dinner at a good hour may not necessarily ground overnight. This morning i was up at an early hour, and dinner at 6 could very well happen today. But not so even just a few nights ago when i was up till dawn. Old habits might die hard....but more and more i am feeling it will be deeply worth it.

Needless to say, i'm praying for help on this one : )

(Images from Natural Rhythms by Rob Plattel )

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