You Don’t Want Any Old Skin Bringing You Down

Photo by Marten Bjork on Unsplash

Off the top of my head, inhabiting someone else’s thoughts when reading a book feels like the right space to clear my head. On second thought that seems too fraught, too busy with the possibilities.

My safe space seems to be the confines of a vehicle that will move through time and space regardless of my opinion. It can be a train, a bus going on a long trip, or better yet a plane that is guaranteed to get me off the grid for at least 7 to 10 hours. That feels like quite the luxury nowadays in a daily struggle to keep my concentration strong for more than 5 seconds. I feel it dwindling even as I’m composing this piece.

Now, not to turn this into morning pages or anything like that. My ritual could also be doing some errands around the house. But only certain ones. Let’s examine them.

Loading the dishwasher feels like a slightly annoying chore at first. Maybe not everything fits in one go, but once things are nice and snug, it’s go time. After 54 minutes of the consistent comforting hum, the dishes come out clean and ready for another day at work. There is something quite relaxing about it, but it does not fill enough time to get lost. Even if I do enjoy the squishy detergent pods.

Doing the laundry is another chore that I welcome because it gives me time to decompress and listen to something fun like a podcast in the background. I lose myself in the stories and at the same time, I’m able to do something productive. I don’t have to spend this time alone with my thoughts, which I tend to do less and less often.

Perhaps I should try getting lost in public and just observing, working at my mind to register the crowded room as an alternative safe space. There is great power in harnessing a pen and paper and jotting down what the friends on the table next to ours are up to. Many great artists have struck gold this way, or at least juicy tales.

It seems the shaving ritual has a lot to do with time management. More precisely, with time perception. How long we think a certain activity will take versus how much time it expands to fill. Curiously enough, we know that the needed time to complete a task tends to shrink and expand accordingly to how much we possess of it and how desperate we are to bend it to our will. In the end, things take up the time they need to get done, with or without our approval.

At the core of the ritual is the need to submit to something that takes a hold of how we spend our time. It can be a literal ritual of meditation and slowing down or a shaving ritual where you know you are not clean-cut until you reveal a smooth face from underneath the lather.

For me, the ritual means being able to suspend ourselves from the pressure of time. In my case, an operated (or self-driving?) vehicle does the job just right. Once I am airborne or riding comfortably on a train, I can let my mind wander free. I love the sensation of being strapped in and settled. If there’s coffee on standby, that’s always a bonus.

Once I am ready to relinquish control to whoever is driving the thing, I feel pressure being lifted off me. It’s as if I no longer am responsible for my body, my thoughts, and my ambitions. I’m just a passenger like any other, going along for the ride without the autonomy to speed up or down or take a turn on my own accord. 

The first few minutes I like to tune in to the friction of the wheels grinding or the wind turbines vibrating as we go higher in the sky. Gaining altitude feels like a mindful journey, one that I could map to my mind as we transcend from a flattened-out busy artery like the airport terminal to a more sophisticated plane of vectors and endpoints in the blue sky. When the plane starts to fly higher, now we are looking at a more complicated system where the planes together have to negotiate air space and be mindful of each other even when traveling at great speeds. 

As I bring my awareness to just a handful of these complicated operations, I realize that not having this responsibility somehow gives me clarity about the things that are in fact my responsibility.

High in the air, there seems to be less bullshit, so I can sit and ask myself: what it is that I actually want to do? Which things feel like vestiges of a past ambition and which ones don’t weigh me down? Because when you’re that high, you don’t want any old skin bringing you down.

Sticky Notes Lesson #3: The shaving ritual by Cole Schafer

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