Another Forty Days, Day 25–Sound the Retreat

I bet if I did a word cloud for each of the previous 25 posts in this series, the words “exhaustion” and “tired” would probably show up a lot.  While I find that a little disappointing, I suppose it speaks to where I find myself at the moment. The other day at work I was essentially triple booked: I was in a meeting that was supposed to go from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., but had to leave at 12:00 for another meeting that was scheduled to go from 12:10-12:30, at which time I had to dash to a third meeting that was scheduled from 12:30 to 1:00 p.m. At one point, as I was dashing to one of the meetings, I ran across a colleague who asked me how I was doing. “I’m trying to stop being where I was and not think about where I’m supposed to be, so I can be where I am. Right here, right now.” Sadly, she understood what I was saying.

Many years ago there was a commercial for Dunkin Donuts, where a man would leave his house early in the morning, declaring, “Time to make the donuts!” He would return, presumably at the end of the day, noticeably tired and declare, “I made the donuts.” This scene repeated itself several times, as the baker made the donuts in sunshine, rain, and snow. And finally, after several times back and forth, the exhausted baker prepares to head out, “Time to make the donuts…” he says tiredly. When he opens the door, he meets himself there and answers himself, “I made the donuts.” There have been a number of occasions when I ran from place to place, bouncing from meeting to meeting, task to task that I wouldn’t have been surprised to meet myself at the door. I used to call them my “going to make the donuts” moments because I very nearly met myself coming and going.

Many of us encounter periods in our lives when things are moving almost faster than we can keep up with them. I appear to be in one of those periods, and so are a number of people around me. I wonder if there’s an epidemic of busyness and overwhelm. How any of us are trying to do too much, too fast, responding to too many demands from too many people to the point where we simply blow a circuit. I see it happening to some people around me, and I realize how simple it is to fall into that. I have found myself consciously declaring that I refuse to get sucked up in their vortices of frenzied busyness to find myself in the same situation. I am more than capable of producing my own overwhelming circumstances, I don’t additionally need to get pulled into those of others.

This reminds me of the story in which Jesus is in a boat with his disciples. The first part of the story is that Jesus was surrounded by a crush of people, like usual. He gets into the boat with his peeps and teaches from the edge of the lake. I think he needed to create distance between himself and the throngs of people following him around. After a while, he suggests to his disciples that they cross to the other side. So while the disciples are powering the boat to the other side, Jesus decides to take a nap, and while he’s sleeping a huge storm blows up and begins swamping the boat with water. The disciples panic while Jesus blithely slumbers as the storm rages.

Finally, they wake him up asking him, “How can you lie there sleeping when we’re all going to die out here?” Jesus, who was exhausted from preaching and healing all day was simply trying to catch a snooze before diving back into the madness, and here the madness followed him out onto the boat in the middle of the lake. He stands up, waves his hand, the storm calms down, and he probably goes back to sleep. Now the disciples are freaked out because Jesus calmed the storm.

Once again I find myself wanting to follow Jesus’ example; not in calming the storm (although that would be very cool), but in taking intentional actions to care for himself. When the crowd got to be a little too close and a little too close, he pulled away from the shore. He kept teaching for a while longer, but now had a little space to catch a breath. When he finished teaching, he withdrew even further, heading to the other side of the lake. What I’m starting to see from the people around me is that they’re crashing ahead, hell-bent-for-leather, working themselves and the people around them into a frenzy. In the process, details are missed, problems are overlooked, and people are excluded. The result is at times a lot of backtracking, coming back to fix things that would have been caught had  they simply taken a little longer to figure out what they were doing before they launched everything.

I can be as impatient as the next person; and some of the things I’ve been working on for my job have evolved painfully slow. But the slowness has allowed everyone to weigh in and examine things from a variety of angles and come at it from a very thoughtful approach. The end product will be that much better because we didn’t rush it. While I think some of this I have learned over the course of many decades, I also believe that even when I was younger, I was willing to allow things to evolve and emerge rather than rushing them. And that, as Robert Frost said, “has made all the difference.”

The time of reflection invited by these 40 days provides space for us to evolve and emerge more slowly, to become who we’re meant to become to come forth, like Lazarus from the tomb.  While frenzy and overwhelm might be a by product of the demands that work and life make of us, it does not have to be. One key lies in rowing away from the shore, creating space between you and the “crowd,” finishing the project from a reasonable distance away, and remaining calm in the face of a storm. The end result of that kind of self care is not only a better program, widget, creation, etc., but also a calmer mind, a quieter spirit, and a joyful heart. How cool is that?

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