What does a perfect day look like?
Any idea of “perfect” must ultimately be subjective. Sometimes our collective imagination comes up with an oppressive perfect that we, as individuals, feel obligated to hold ourselves in comparison to. But finding our own ideal, even and especially in contradiction of this societal ideal, has great value.
There’s one specific question of “perfect” that I’ve been thinking about lately: What does my perfect day look like? The more I’ve contemplated what that day might look like, the more I realize how deeply revealing the question is. There were some ways that the contents of my “perfect day” took me by surprise, and some ways in which the idealization made me feel, oddly, grateful.
As you look at my “perfect day,” I encourage you to think of your own. After I give my rendition, I’ll pick apart some of the ways I think the exercise can be useful. One major point before you begin, though: This is not an exercise where you write down what you think the perfect day should be, but what the perfect day would be for you. Right now. Even if it’s ridiculous or makes you kind of uncomfortable.
Okay, moving on!
My Perfect Day
Here’s what it looks like.
07:30ish – I wake up at half past seven, rested from eight hours of sleep. First (why deny it?), I stumble to my computer and check my Facebook and email. Then, having cleared out the junk while I shook off sleep, I would light incense (laid out the night before) and sit down on my yoga mat for ten, fifteen minutes of meditation. I would keep at the practice until I felt peaceful and emotionally energized.
08:00ish – From there I would turn on either an audiobook or Vlogbrothers videos or maybe an episode of Firefly, then settle back onto my mat for some hatha yoga. I would spend extra time easing into child’s pose and cobra and shoulderstand. I would continue this for somewhere between an hour and half an hour.
08:45ish – Next, I would go to the kitchen (which, unlike today, would be vaguely clean). I would make a kingly breakfast: muesli with yogurt, toast topped with eggs and baked beans, a banana, two glasses of water, and a glass of orange juice. Maybe I’d continue my audiobook-listening or video-watching as I eat, or maybe I’d just focus on eating consciously.
09:15ish – My shower would be nice and warm. While still luxuriating in the shower’s warmth, I’d clean my underwear (a weird, productive habit I picked up while backpacking), un-smellify my body, tidy my facial hair, floss, and brush my teeth. Then I’d say a quick prayer asking for courage and patience. (Yes, I’m still a Buddhatheist. No, I don’t see prayer as a contradiction to those beliefs.) At the end of the shower, I’d turn the water to pure cold to get myself invigorated.
9:45ish – I’d change into clean clothes. Clothes that would fit more comfortably than most of my clothes do now. I’d put my pajamas away, put away my yoga mat, set out tonight’s incense, make my bed, and tidy my room. Then I’d talk to someone I loved. There are several of them; I don’t mind which one I chat with. I just don’t want to finish my morning without connecting with at least one person I care about.
10:15ish – If it’s a school day (Monday/Wednesday for the next few years), I’d walk across town to catch the bus. On the way to my destination (the campus of my university if it’s a school day, or some park or coffee shop or library if it’s not), I would read. Whatever I’m reading for pleasure. And I would have a book I’m reading purely for the pleasure of it.
11:00ish – Whatever day it is, I would start with a “charity hour.” This is an idea I’ve wanted to do for a while now. As a freelancer, I can do an hour of work if I choose. At first this hour would be a “debt hour,” with the income ear-marked for paying off credit cards. Once credit cards are paid off and my savings account looks healthy, I’d keep the habit but make it a “charity hour.” The money would be ear-marked for helping others. There are a few charities I like, but Kiva is my favorite. (If you follow that link, you can make a $25 micro-loan without risking any of your own money. So do it!) Freelance income varies quite a lot, but an hour a day means anywhere from $300 to $900 a month. I would love to give that much.
12:00ish – If it’s a school day, I’d go to classes. If it’s a class I’m in, I would be attentive and engaged, unless it’s a math class, in which case I’d be writing or finishing menial online tasks or Facebooking. If it’s a class I’m teaching, I would be getting people talking, getting people engaged, doing what I can to help my students feel empowered. Between classes, I’d chat with students or with friends.
If it’s a non-school day, I’d settle in for extra writing work or homework or grading or project work or freelancing—whichever hits my objectives best and feels most enjoyable for the day. As much as possible, I would stay disconnected from the internet while doing this. I’d have music on, headphones in. I’d do a couple of hours of work before lunch and another couple after. On many days, I’d change projects after lunch.
In either case, I’d grab my lunch on the go. Something like a subway egg-and-cheese sandwich or a protein shake or a salad or a veggie burger.
16:00ish – Heading out of class/work, I’d go to either the school gym or the recreation center. I’d meet up with a friend to play racquetball, or go for a swim, or do zumba, or lift weights. I’d almost always be doing the exercise with someone. Then the journey home. On the bus, I would do creative writing.
18:00ish – If I felt snared by my writing on the bus, I would stop by the library or (if I’m feeling fancy) get dinner at Bombay House while I write. Otherwise, I’d go home and make dinner. I’d make food for people I loved too. Something simple but tasty. A chickpea curry on rice. Black beans and onions and mushrooms. A stir fry, maybe. And when I was done, I would clean my dishes and tidy my kitchen, like a grown up.
19:00ish – I’d waste time with people I cared about. Maybe movies or TV. Maybe video games. Maybe just talking. Hell, maybe just watching the sunset together. Unless I felt burnt out on people, in which case I’d take the evening on my own to recharge. On Thursdays (at least for the next few months), I would be doing my social time through the creative writing club. At some point in my evening, there will be singing.
22:00ish – I would change into my pajamas, brush my teeth, maybe wash my face. Then I’d lay out my yoga mat, light my incense, do a few stretches, then meditate and give a prayer of thanks. Then I would do an Eledian prayer (which would take too long to explain here). If I felt stiff or tense, I would do yoga while listening to an audiobook.
22:45ish – I’d start reading or turn on an audiobook or start reading until my natural rhythm drooped me down toward sleep. Dreaming by midnight. Giving myself plenty of time to rest up for tomorrow’s beautiful day.
the Value of the Exercise
So, if you read through all the details of my perfect day, I’m guessing you’re enjoying contemplating this question yourself. (Or you’re one of my stalkers. Hi stalkers!) Maybe you were looking for some deep thoughts or inspiration for what your own days could look like. Maybe you want to understand more about what it means to human in situations and lifescapes different then your own.
So, if you’re still curious, let’s go a level deeper.
Desire and Swimming with Basketballs
I mentioned that my desires surprised me and made me feel grateful. Here’s a large part of what I meant. I didn’t set out to describe a mundane day. I set out to describe the day that would feel most fulfilling and joyful. Yet what I described was not any sweeping adventure, no Time Lords appeared, and I didn’t become suddenly wealthy. I didn’t think to be magically transported to beautiful, care-free lands. I didn’t even fantasize about skipping out on my work.
I generally expect myself to want unhealthy things, unproductive things, and foolish things. That expectation creates a fear of desire, and that fear leads me to preemptively assume that my desires cannot be good, and thus I fight against them. This assumption is based on our predominant cultural narratives, but it’s also based on past experience; when my desires have won out, they have been expressed in disruptive or even destructive ways.
But when examined fearlessly and without judgment, my desires have appeared quite different. I want good things—which makes a great deal of sense, as any definition of “good” is subjective and thus based on the same values that, when living with integrity, establish my desires. It is not desire that corrupts, but suppression that corrupts desire.
Have you ever played with a basketball in a swimming pool? Lay it on top of the water and it will simply rest there. But push it down and it threatens to spring up. The further you push it, the harder it is to contain and the more likely it is to erupt violently. I believe desires work the same way as we try to push them deeper into our psyche.
(This is too big of a topic to do justice here. Bug me in the comments if you want to hear a full examination.)
Gratitude and Emotional Nutrients
This exercise proved valuable for identifying ways in which I’m feeling emotionally untended, and some of these untended areas were either different or more powerful than I expected. The desires that keep surfacing seem to be the emotional nutrients I’m most hungry for: time with people I care about, meaningful work, taking care of my body, and so on.
The exercise offers some guidance in making value choices as well. As with all ideations, the “perfect day” won’t ever be a reality, but it serves as a point for comparison—a mark on our cognitive maps that can help us as we try to navigate our liminal landscapes. The realization that this perfect day is supported by certain sleep routines, work patterns, social ties, and types of interaction helps me to gauge how close I am to feeding myself in many of the ways that feel most important.
But the sense of gratitude I felt at the end of the exercise was not solely because I found the exercise to be a useful tool. Yes, I felt grateful for the pleasant surprise in seeing healthy desires rise to the surface. Yes, I felt grateful that what I truly want doesn’t seem to require adventure, violation of the laws of physics, a Time Lord, or even sudden wealth. To see that what I want is actually reasonable and obtainable is a beautiful thing. But the largest piece of gratitude came from something else.
Walking through the steps of my ideal day, I felt deeply grateful for how many of these steps are already present in my daily life. Listing them here helped me recognize how much I value silly things in my daily routine: morning meditation, my Subway sandwich for lunch, and even making my bed. It strikes me that these little habits and bits of joy define me; they are the parts of my life that make me feel most human.
But enough about me. If you have the inclination, I’d love to hear what your ideal day looks like. Use as much or as little detail as you’d like, and leave your description of perfection (or a link to your own blog-posty response) in the comments, below.