Two contradictory principles for Christmas

Christmas is a day like any other. It doesn’t signal an interruption of my normal routine. So today, like most days, I got up at 0430, made a cup of tea, meditated and wrote some nonsense in my journal.

But last night, as I was relaxing, I began to wonder. Should it? Are there days when normal service should be interrupted? Are there times when you should take a break from doing what you love?

Despite being only 25, I’m lucky enough to have found love four times. I’ve found it with the woman asleep in another room, and with three activities; reading, writing and jiu-jitsu. It is these four things, more than any others, which have been the anchor in the last year of my life. They have held me fast in the relatively mild storms I’ve experienced over the past twelve months. And I expect them to continue in that role for a long time, through much harsher periods.  

Of the four, writing is the one that I’ve committed to doing every day, for decades. But that commitment presents a problem. In a series of decades, things are going to happen. People are going to die. My world is going to be turned upside down and flipped back round again. There will be normal days, special days and days I’d rather not remember. So the question that commitment to decades long practice of a craft raises is this: when do I allow myself to stop?

Two answers come immediately to mind. But the issue is that they contradict one another. Let me formulate them as principles for doing the work that you love.

Principle 1: No days off.
Principle 2: Take a break.

The first principle says that nothing should affect my practice. “Come hell or high water, pain, suffering or loss, I will be there, doing what I must.” But will I? I don’t know. In my head I’ve explored scenarios where the people I love most die. Where I am ill. In all these scenarios, in these times of great personal upheaval, I always imagine one constant: me doing what I love. After all, what is a better reliever of pain and renewer of solace than the act of writing, of expressing what I feel, even if what I feel is incredible pain?

But the second principle aligns with some common wisdom. It’s encapsulated in the observation that absence makes the heart grow fonder. That distance inflames the desire to be close. That being away from something or someone you cherish makes you want to be near again. Not to mention the fact that taking a break is a fundamental building block of the recovery process. If you tear a tendon, you don’t keep exercising it. The act of not doing is what allows you to recover, recharge and continue doing. 

So which is it? On Christmas Day, on New Year’s Day, on birthdays, on commemorative days, on great days and days where the worst happens, which principle do we adhere to? “No days off”? Or “Take a break”?