It's around midnight the day before I officially start part-time work for the three months prior to retiring, and the morning will be my first day of not working. Panic starts to set in, what am I doing?
I'd been looking back over my career, thinking of all the things I could have done but hadn't and all the things I wish I'd done better or, in some cases, not at all. Then on to all the things I would now never do at work. Round and round, faster and faster, together with almost overwhelming feelings of dread, fear and panic.
Strangely, when I woke up, I felt fine. Excited and even somewhat elated. No work and I could do whatever I want! But what? We live out in the country, where the old maps gave no details other than to say, 'Here be dragons.' About 2 miles from the back of our house is a long ridge, that runs for quite a few miles. It is wooded and I walked along it some years ago but have not really had time since. I had long planned to walk the dog there on one of my days off. It was a lovely, warm, sunny morning so off we went.
"All knowledge, the totality of all questions and all answers, is contained in the dog." Franz Kafka.
Whilst this may or may not be true, it is an interesting thought so this time I didn’t listen to music, as I often do on morning walks with him. This time, I would watch closely and see what answers he had. A little way up the track you can get in the fields, which the dog immediately did, quartering them at speed looking for wildlife, ideally pheasants. As we went up the hill it became quieter and quieter. No tractors, or other farm machinery, nothing. Just the sound of the breeze through some trees. Abruptly shattered by a volley of outraged, demented squawks from a pheasant the dog had sprung from the bottom of a hedge. Then we were in the woods, and they were beautiful, followed by more fields before reaching home two hours and about six miles later.
Are all questions and answers contained in the dog? To an extent, yes, For the dog, there is only now. No future and no past, apart from people he knows and places he's been, which he remembers.
What else did I learn? Silence is not golden, it is green and dappled. It is also the sound trees make in the breeze and the sound of your feet going up a path through the woods. Perhaps most of all, it is the silence of the mind; getting off the endless and endlessly accelerating racetrack of thoughts about what I hadn't done, wouldn't now do and worrying about what I would do. Though keeping away from it will take practice, as it lurks, always ready to welcome me back, just down a steep and slippery slope.
Living in the now, being more like the dog is a good start. What else? Although I said previously that I would not plan but simply have a menu of things to do that I would pick from on any given day, that didn’t work. I found myself drifting aimlessly, bored and not doing anything much. It seems people do need some structure (and purpose?) in their lives. So, I organised days with a choice of at most two things per part of the day. For example, Monday morning is a long walk with the dog, then finish the paper. Monday afternoon might be an hour or so cycling or some Italian (depending on the weather). And so on. I've also cooked some new things. After two months semi-retired, that seems to be working quite well. I now feel more stable, less worried and much more used to and accepting of the idea of retirement. So much so that I have now started to feel resentful of the days I have to work.
Onwards and upwards!