There are a lot of blog posts, discussions, and thoughts floating around on the interwebs recently discussing how to make the most of the margins in life and create white space. The way I would define these is that margins are those bits of time that are unaccounted for throughout the day in 5-30 minute chunks here and there. It could be that 30 minutes of mindless channel surfing before bed or the 5 minutes waiting for the coffee to brew. Whereas I think of margins just naturally occurring in the ebb and flow of the day, white spaces are more intentional. Margins happen. White space is created.
Just like now…
I skipped some lines and create white space to impose a break in the verbiage and give a pause for reflection. That’s what white space does in our lives. It can be literally created empty space on a calendar, but it is also a theoretical or philosophical space in time that is necessary for us to refuel and reflect in order to keep our tanks full and stay healthy as humans. It shifts our focus. It’s a place for quiet. We can choose to fill it or leave it be. Different seasons of life, types of day, and mood may impact how we create our white space and fill our margins.
As human beings we all thrive on and crave routine. I think of myself as a spontaneous and flexible person. I love surprises and am adept at handling unexpected situations. I am also easily bored. Even so…I crave rhythm and routines. There is a comfort in knowing what to expect and what will happen next. There is a joy in planning and thinking forward. There is satisfaction in checking things off the list. There is enough change in life (morning to evening, the seasons, life transitions, aging, moving, etc.) that there is still some comfort in those routines and predictable changes.
I have always been a naturally reflective person, even as a child. I have also had some good daily routines at various times in my life, especially a before bed routine. However, the blessing and curse of being a professor is that my overall daily routine changes pretty often. Not only are no two days within the week the same as far as schedule goes, but there are changes with every semester and then breaks between semesters. Just when I get in the groove of creating white spaces and intentionally using the margins of my day well, then a change in daily routine sets in and I have to do it all over again. I actually like the changing schedules. It keeps me from becoming bored and causes me to constantly be conscious and diligent about how I manage my productive time and my down time.
One of my goals for this year was to start keeping a daily gratitude journal. I started it in January and had been diligent to write in it as part of my nightly before-bed habit all the way through April. Then I went out of town and didn’t immediately unpack it on my return home and the busy end of the semester set in. Along with my daily gratitude reflection, I also started reading (and savoring) one poem a night. I worked my way through four slender volumes of poetry before I ran out of poetry books and neglected to get any new ones from the library. That carefully crafted (and yes, filled, but filled with reflection) white space seemed to melt away.
I just recently had a semester break, then summer semester started again last week. I am slowly recreating some simple routines to help the margins frame my days in better ways, as well as create some white space that is free from demands. I want to re-establish my bedtime habit of writing in my gratitude journal and reading and pondering one poem a day before I start my pre-sleep reading. (I have ALWAYS read for pleasure before bed and no matter how tired I am, I can’t fall asleep with out reading). Being as I am a night-owl and not a lark, the morning routine is always a bit more difficult. I try to have a devotional time (which can take many different forms), eat breakfast, and have coffee in the mornings. The reality is that one 1-2 of those things typically happens. I want my morning margin to be a bit more intentional since I firmly believe Henry Ward Beecher’s statement that “the first hour is the rudder of the day.” Finally, I want to be intentional in creating and jealous in guarding the white space so that I can be thoughtful, rested, and filled so that I can then love, give, and be.