Forty Days Revisited, Day 35–A Quiet Place

All I want is a quiet place to live
Where I can enjoy the fruits of my labor
Read the paper
And not have to cry out loud
~from “A Quiet Place to Live” by Carole King

I admit it: I am an introvert. And strangely, I have worked for the last 35 years working with and around people. It’s not that introverts don’t like to be around people (I used to be accused of being “antisocial” by certain family members), it’s that being around too many people in too many setting for too long simply drains the life force out of us. I am at a point this evening in which I am “peopled out,” that is, after two days of back-to-back-to-back meetings, with barely enough time in between to go to the restroom, I’m mentally and emotionally drained. Then to come home and watch the evening news (time for me to go on another news fast) and see example after example after example of human beings’ capacities for cruelty to one another, I have pretty much had it with people.

How can you say that, you are people. I can almost hear the objections. Indeed, I am people, and there are many people I love–my partner, my siblings, my close friends. But for the most part I would be good with very little human interaction, at least for the time being. I think I would be in good company. I think there are a lot of people who are feeling peopled out and we would be in good company if we wanted to be around other people, which we don’t.

I bet Jesus was an introvert. As much time as he spent around people, on more than one occasion the bible says he “withdrew to a quiet place” to pray. I bet he withdrew because he was peopled out and needed a break. I am thinking that I need to withdraw to a quiet place myself, to pray, to refresh, to recover. But the world I live in doesn’t really provide space for that. The nature of the work I do doesn’t provide space for that. The country that we are living in in 2018 doesn’t really allow for that. And so I have to make it for myself.

My former Buddhist teacher, Mushim Patricia Ikeda, recently wrote an article titled, “I Vow Not to Burn Out,” directed toward those who work to bring social change and justice to the world, particularly here in the US. In it she talks about the importance of self-care for those of us who spend time and energy trying to–essentially–change the world. I need to read the article multiple times until the message is burned into the space behind my eyelids where I can see it even when my eyes are closed. Mushim proposed a “Great Vow for Mindful Activists,” which reads:

“Aware of suffering and injustice, I, _________, am working to create a more just, peaceful, and sustainable world. I promise, for the benefit of all, to practice self-care, mindfulness, healing, and joy. I vow to not burn out.”

During the last days of Lent, as we follow the final steps of Jesus’s journey, it’s important to pay attention to the state of our minds, our hearts, our spirits as we go about our daily tasks at work. We need to attend to the warning signs that we are “peopled out,” and withdraw ourselves to a quiet place to refresh and rejuvenate. As I look at my calendar filled with all kinds of “important” meetings, I know that I need to attend to my own needs. Jesus withdrew himself to a quiet place, away from the world, away from people and their demands, away to a place of solitude. The practice worked for Jesus, I reckon it can work for me.

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