Those readers who have been following the series may feel this admonition is stretching the topic (uncrazying your life) to extremes. However, I believe that this suggestion is an eminently reasonable element and, indeed, an essential step in the process. I did not have to say “go fishing”. It could have been advising you to take your dog for a long walk in the park, spend the afternoon pampering yourself in a hot springs spa, putter in your balcony garden, take a good book to a quiet spot on a beach somewhere, or, really, do anything that requires a cessation of productive effort and collective action. Voila! You have just created your personal version of a mini-sabbatical.
Many ancient religions and schools of philosophy taught their followers the need for a periodic retreat, a sabbatical, from their weekly and seasonal routines. The word “sabbatical” refers to the Jewish practice of declaring one day each week as a time-out, their Sabbath day. By making it a religious practice or a regular component in the fixed weekly routine of a follower, the leaders assured greater compliance. They knew, if it was a fixed, regular activity, people were less likely to make excuses for why they could omit it from their crazy busy schedules… “just this time”. You would never do that, would you?
Why would the leaders want to be certain their followers would regularly use this sabbath day technique? Because it works. The immediate and cumulative benefits of a regular time-out are obvious and irrefutable. Yes, there may be a few people who are so monomaniacal in the pursuit of their goals or lifestyle that they can and do work seven days a week ad infinitum. But those are the rare exceptions which prove the case for the vast majority of people.
Furthermore, those extremists represent the dark side of becoming an authority. By the time a person becomes an acknowledged expert in any field, they have devoted so much of their life and attention to the subject that they can no longer see things as normal people would see them. Their life has shrunk to a single area of expertise and their worldview has been skewed accordingly. They may be experts in their field but they are probably not the best role models for us mortals. Extreme behavior may be sustainable for the elite few; the rest of us need an occasional afternoon off to go fishing.
Why fishing? Really, it doesn’t have to be fishing. As I said, it could be any of a number of actions that combines solitary time, preferably in a natural setting and doing something with your hands, with a cessation of your normal productive activities. I chose fishing because of my experiences and associations; choose your own form of escape.
Confession: If I am completely honest, these days, I spend more time reading about fishing and remembering past fishing trips than I spend in actually “wetting a line”. Maybe I need to spend less time writing about it and more time doing it.
For a more detailed rationale of this concept, let me offer an excerpt from Harold Blaisdell’s delightful book The Philosophical Fisherman:
The respective rewards of serious and casual fishing are enormously different and mutually exclusive. A man fishes seriously with personal triumph as his goal and is nurtured by any success he attains. Furthermore, he is under self-imposed pressure to succeed, for his pride is at stake. Casual fishing brings freedom from this pressure and provides an atmosphere that is conducive to reflection and to keen appreciation of one’s surroundings.
In my admonition to “go fishing”, I am referring to what Blaisdell calls “casual fishing”. The purpose is to relax and unwind from our crazy busy schedules, complications, deadlines, and pressures to compare favorably with other people. The reason for a sabbatical is to get away from those things. If you don’t want to go fishing, pick something else you personally enjoy. The important factor is not the fishing but the relaxing.
Besides being relaxing, solitary, low-tech, and enjoyable, another important point to remember is that it must be regular. Like the Jewish Sabbath day once each week, we need to take this time-out regularly and continuously, not merely when it is convenient. (In our busy lives, it is never going to be convenient to add one more thing to our full schedule.) So put it on your calendar, just like an important appointment – then, don’t miss your appointment with yourself.
Isn’t it ironic that we will keep an appointment – even for something trivial and relatively unimportant to us – if that appointment involves meeting someone else? However, we will casually skip an appointment with ourselves, even if it is to do something we enjoy and which has a greater return-on-investment?
Enter it (digital) or write it (paper) on your calendar where you can see it and be reminded that “Wednesday afternoon, I will go fishing.” This is another reason to get a wall calendar rather than relying on a digital calendar. A digital calendar on the screen of your phone or computer allows – and even encourages – perspective myopia. If you cannot see the big picture, you will not see the overall patterns and recognize how you are allocating your time.
Finally, going fishing (or the equivalent), helps us to see through all the noise in our lives to remember what is truly important. David Allen, the author of the seminal book, Getting Things Done, points out the average person has between 30 and 70 ongoing projects. Plus, we have multiple roles we play with different groups or in different situations, and a ceaseless torrent of new input which, useful or fluff, loudly demands our attention. To organize this maelstrom of stimuli, we have digital apps and old-fashioned paper and notebooks for recording, saving and archiving all the notes. The express purpose of creating these archived notes is to get them out of our brains and onto another medium, either paper or digital. Ideally, our brain will then be free to focus on the job at hand without being distracted by the background noise of all the stuff we are mentally trying to remember and prioritize. Allen says that, in our busy lives, the one thing we invariably trust is our calendar, either electronic or paper. Everything else is subject to being overlooked – or, ironically, being ignored when we get too busy. But we faithfully depend upon our calendar to keep us from forgetting some critically important appointment.
So, use that trusted tool, your calendar, to remind yourself that, on a particular day, at a particular time, you are going fishing. It’s important; that’s why you put it on your calendar.
Then, go fishing!