I heard that quite a bit as a young child. Usually I was doing something very important, such as watching the wind blow dry leaves across the water like little boats, or examining the workings of an ant colony, or identifying the shapes of clouds. I could not understand the urgency of getting somewhere on time.
My most memorable moment of dawdling came when I was six years old. We were at Yellowstone National Park, and I was standing on a boardwalk looking at the water and a steaming landscape. A ranger started telling everyone that a geyser was about to blow. My mother said, “Come on, David. We have to hurry because we’re going to get wet.”
Everyone else around us was scurrying for dry land. The rest of my family had made it. “Come on, David! The water’s going to be hot!”
I wanted to see it and to feel it.
Sigh. Reluctantly, I let her grab my hand and hurry me off. Fortunately—from my perspective, anyway—just as we started the geyser blew. It was beautiful! And so close! And we got wet! And….it was NOT hot, just pleasantly warm.
Hmmph. There had been no need to leave that boardwalk.
the dictatorship of the clock
I was a dreamer from the get-go, watching, listening—an outsider in a world that seemed always in such a hurry. And while my parents did not understand this, they also took me to one place of natural beauty after another, where wild, native seeds were carried by the Spirit Wind and planted in the garden of my soul. Wind-swept lakes. Rocky shorelines. Wide-open spaces. I was always looking outward, and seeing inward.
Ours is a world in which the simple joys of childhood and the sense of connectedness and belonging that occur when time stands still often are reduced to mere, fragile memories as we are indoctrinated to the dictatorship of the clock. Resisters are shamed, called dawdlers, bums, lazy, dreamers, while those who succumb quickly and adopt the rules of the regime are called go-getters, ambitious, successful.
Nurturing the inner dawdler
Eventually I gave in, and became a success. I don’t regret it, but I also knew that I was losing something very important, and that a key part of me would die if I weren’t mindful of it. Raising children helped immensely, for they gave me an acceptable excuse to spend time doing nothing that the world of the clock thinks worthwhile. Not merely an excuse, but an incentive. They helped me find my inner dawdler again, and to not let him slip away into memory.
The balance was rarely perfect. There would be months at a time when, immersed in some work-related project or other, I would forget the basics. Finally I would recognize the source of my restlessness and stress, and would make time again to leave the world of the clock on a regular basis, and enter the moment.
Thank goodness! Without that inner dawdler, I would not have become the professor who touched the lives of students with courses they found inspirational. I would not have found the inspiration for my books and other writings. I would not have been so deeply touched by this lifelong spiritual journey and its never-ending search for meaning.
Even so, old habits of busyness die hard. I was reminded of that the other day, reading a poem by Mary Oliver. She writes:
For how many years did I wander slowly
through the forest. What wonder and
glory I would have missed had I ever been
in a hurry!
How true that was for me, I thought. And I knew that even in retirement I have been too stuck in busyness, continuing habits from my work life.
So I have deemed 2019 a year to find a better balance. Again. Notice I say this as I start a new blog. Baby steps.
I know I need to spend more time dawdling, so as to loosen the bonds of time and more fully experience the moment. I want to awaken to the changing shapes of clouds, the feel of the breeze on my face, the changing patterns of light as day turns to night, and night into day. These kinds of experiences always open my heart to new seeds of life.
My childhood as a first class dawdler, and my adult life as an educator on a search for meaning, has taught me that when I let this happen, and nurture those seeds, whatever grows is always good. I think it’s planting time again.
Photo: 1961, me at age 4, somewhere on the Canadian side of Lake Superior. Dawdling.
Dawdling, in my case at least, is a result of the curiosity that is connected to joy (aliveness). It is a natural outgrowth of awe and wonder, and so best fits in the teal section of the singing wilderness spiritual road map.