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Nancy Okerlund
Volume 2, Issue 10, 05/22/08

Where's the Down Time?!

Sunday night I got out my calendar to see what the week looked like and got a little nervous. It looked busy, just like last week. It wasn't a shock - I'm the one who fills up my calendar - but there I was, facing the music.

A couple weeks worth of more stimulation than usual, including quite a bit of extroverting. (And maybe more than a couple weeks, peeking ahead.)

So I wondered where in the heck am I going to get some down time here?! (A basic necessity for us introverts.)

I went to bed without an answer. But Monday afternoon I found myself taking a walk (actually a stroll) in the woods, instead of staying at my desk. (The freedom of self-employment.:-)

And I noticed I was watching the warblers intently (not out of the corner of my eye.) And I was stopping to gaze at the beds of little wild violets. (Not out of the corner of my eye.)

I had a little insight there on the trail. In fact, I sat down to have it. I remembered how easy it was in my twenties, as a pretty avid bird watcher, to spend hours birding.

It wasn't a strong enough passion to hold its own once I became a mother. But I'm a lover of the natural world and in my heart I still consider myself a "birder". Maybe in a sort of introvert way, I'd decided it didn't matter so much that I wasn't birding anymore because I had the experience inside me.

Here's the insight: I realized there's a big difference between knowing how to do something or remembering something - and actually doing it. Knowing you can ride a bike because you did it constantly as a kid isn't the same as riding the bike.

That thought is a "no-brainer".:-) What makes it an insight is that I could feel it in my body. It was as if my internal "introvert analyzer" put two and two together and said, "Hey, you need to get out more - smell those roses!" And I got it!

Yesterday, toward the middle of my packed day, I noticed myself (a little defiantly) grab my knitting bag and decide to knit two rows on my dishcloth, even though I supposedly "didn't have time". (I'm not a real knitter but I like the feeling of making dishcloths so I do it, in spurts.)

And I had another insight - another no-brainer, but I felt it in my body. It was that I could "seize the moment", as the saying goes, and have a little fun, literally for a couple minutes. And I did!

(And I remembered a book I like but haven't looked at for years. It's called 20-Minute Retreats - Revive Your Spirits in Just Minutes a Day with Simple Self-Led Exercises, by Rachel Harris. It's full of ideas that take much less than 20 minutes, in case seizing the moment interests you.)

This must be Insight Week because last night I started having another one. It's about down time. I think it's a big sister to "get out and smell the roses" and "seize the moment - have a little fun."

The insight is that down time means giving the brain a chance to rest. Another no-brainer, on the surface. What I'm getting in my body is that rest means rest.

But the brain "resting" is mysterious. I know that if it was completely resting I'd be dead. I know it's on duty 24/7 - but sleep experts know brains do rest during sleep, even if they don't understand it very well.

I know the temperament researchers have figured out introverts need to sleep after receiving input because our information and experience get stored into long-term memory - while we sleep. ("Sleep on it" is a good habit for introverts.) The body resting, but the brain working. (And resting at the same time?!)

I tend to read and reread descriptions of the blood pathways of introvert and extrovert brains - I find it both fascinating and complicated. When I see the longer, more complicated introvert path and read about how busy it is, I can get tired just thinking about it!

But what do I mean, I wonder, when I say that down time means giving the brain a chance to rest? Where's the rest in down time?!

I think I've been "collapsing" solitude and down time. My particular busy introvert brain (and body) likes a lot of solitude. I use solitude for lots of things. But when it comes to producing over-stimulation, my brain can beat Disneyland hands down. And I can do it really well in a low-stimulation environment, all by myself. Solitude doesn't guarantee down time in my world.

What I think I'm getting this week, in my body, is that for me, down time means something like "being in the moment with my senses". Giving my honorable, hard-working, complicated introvert brain a rest from thinking. By smelling the flowers, working with my hands, staring out the window at a cloud. It's a state of mind: not thinking (while doing or not-doing something.)

I like hours of it at a time but I'll take it in minutes, too.

End of food for thought - on to some practical ideas:

A Practical Idea for Introverts

Take a look at how you give your brain a rest from thinking.

A Practical Idea for Extroverts

Compare notes with an introvert in your life about how you relax.

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