If you’ve been in France long enough, you’ll start to notice a magic hour. I’m not talking about the magic hour for photography that happens right before the sun rises or sets, but the magic hour that takes place around 2 in the afternoon.
Abroad, my alarm clock for days in which I wanted to sleep in was the chatter of children floating up from the daycare across the street; when I tried to sleep early, various raucous groups of teens chain-smoke underneath my window; for some particular reason, the hours of construction on whatever it is they’re constructing (I have never seen evidence of this) was between the hours of 6 and 8 in the morning; and, the clock tower unrelentingly chimes on the hour as well as random times in between just to remind you of its existence.
However, sometime around 2 in the afternoon, for the length of a good conversation, a truly remarkable silence will fall. I hadn’t noticed this until halfway through my 6-month stay, which also sparked the realization of how noisy life can be. If you can catch the European day on its sweet spot, you’re rewarded with a blissful tranquility that goes unmatched. Try it next time you’re in France—take a walk at 2 PM (this only works in smaller towns aka not Paris).
2 PM is when the restaurants close before opening again for dinner; it’s when all the citizens are happily sated and nearly comatose in the languor that was their lunch. During this moment, there exists no children, transportation seems to have arrested, and the town takes on a ghosttown-like quality. You enter almost a forced state of meditation. The silence has a quality similar to that of a university library—but less stressful; it encourages creativity, deep thought, and gratitude.
This, you realize, is what the world would sound like if you were the only living human.
It’s completely pointless to waste the magic hour on catching up with your errands or doing homework. This hour is meant to be enjoyed, to be present and just living. There’s no need to be productive for every hour of the day; you have to slow down life in order to enjoy it fully.
To this day, this is the most important lesson I’ve learned while abroad is how to slow life down.
While in Europe, I was never swept away in the mass anxiety to do something the way I feel in the States. It was widely understood that each person has his/her own pace and they were welcome to continue at it. I miss the 3-hour long dinners that we would have as a group—eating, talking, laughing. Though nothing significant happened during these times (if you asked me what we talked about, I would shrug, utterly clueless), though no one moment stood out as a realization that these people had become my people, I knew it was because of these languorous meals that formed friendships.
Some were frustrated at how long this process took and I understood; not everyone has the time to dedicate for 3+ hours just to eat. But at the same time, learning how to just let time go, loosen your eye off the clock, and regain some life as a result is a good lesson to learn. And thankful that I was lucky enough to have had a time in my life where I had no obligations—just to live life to the fullest.
Since coming back home, I’ve kept a close eye on my perception of time. If I don’t have that time each day or even every other day to just live in the moment, I can start to feel as if I’m behind for some reason. I used to think that this just meant I wasn’t filling my time up with enough productive things to do, that all I needed to do was take on yet another hobby, yet another thing to occupy all this time we’re given, but it wasn’t.
I’ve come to realize that it was exactly the opposite, that I was just being swept away in this mass hysteria to prove myself, to make something of myself, to do everything I can during my spare time to develop. Have you ever noticed that when filling each second of each day with some sort of productive activity makes it feel as if those seconds have slipped by unnoticed? Even if it’s something you truly enjoy doing, time still slips away quietly—irreversibly. I wasn’t behind on my productivity, far from it actually; I was behind on enjoying life. By blocking out a period of 10 minutes to an hour where you just take a step back and breathe, you’ll find yourself more capable to tackle on your everyday life.
Today, I dedicate a whole Sunday to this kind of activity. In a way, I’ve created and lengthened my own magic hour to a whole day; a day I like to call Recalibration. To me, Sunday is not a day to run errands or to catch up with work, it’s a day for a different kind of catch up. During this day, I usually spend the whole day reading (articles, books, whatever sparks my curiosity), cooking, or writing without ever seeing another soul. Generally, I prepare myself for the upcoming week through a little soul loving. So enjoy it, because the magic hour is always temporary.
Always say ‘yes’ to the present moment… Surrender to what is. Say ‘yes’ to life – and see how life starts suddenly to start working for you rather than against you.
– Eckhart Tolle
The present moment, if you think about it, is the only time there is. No matter what time it is, it is always now.
– Marianne Williamson
If you abandon the present moment, you cannot live the moments of your daily life deeply.
– Nhat Hanh
What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned (abroad)? What do you usually do on Sundays? Do you have a similar “recalibration” process?
Short announcement: I’ll be traveling until March 25th in San Francisco, which is why I won’t be able to respond/do bloggy things that I normally do! But, that doesn’t mean I don’t wholly appreciate the comments you guys leave and will respond to all of them when I come back. I’ll be posting updates on Twitter and Instagram (links below) so you can follow along! Until then, see you!