This morning it’s chilly in the apartment. I watch my fingers on the keyboard, watch the candles, watch the steam rising up from the tea, watch the words emerge. The heat of the tea candles eddies the air, moving the prayer flags that hang above my writing space.
I feel scattered and sleepy. How do I gather all the pieces back in, find our new rhythm? This is the juggling time, and that’s why all my muscles are aching. I stop. Today there’s a deep quiet inside, someplace that wants to rest.
This is what I read last night, in my revisiting of women who run with the wolves:
“To lose focus means to lose energy. the absolute wrong thing to attempt when we’ve lost focus is to rush about struggling to pack it all back together again. Rushing is not the thing to do. As we see in the tale ["The Three Gold Hairs"], sitting and rocking is the thing to do. Patience, peace and rocking renew ideas. Just holding the idea and the patience to rock it are what someone women might call a luxury. Wild Woman says it is a necessity.” (p. 329)
Have you found yourself at this sort of place, where there’s too much to do and no time to do it in? There’s always too much to do and no time to do it in, but when my energy is waned or I am reached the over saturated place, suddenly time feels tighter. How can I rest at times like these?Suddenly my efforts seem to not reach as far. Suddenly I feel I’m flailing, in the middle of seventeen projects all at the same moment, flitting from one to the other, leaving everything undone and myself exhausted at the end of the day.
Everything undone: exposed, open, revealed. This is how I feel when I’m spinning too fast, stuck in panic, unable to focus on any one task for any given length of time.
Pinkola Estes says that this the time to stop (Laura van Dernoot Lipsky’s Trauma Stewardship would recommend the same thing). This is the time to rest, rock, reflect — meditate or pray, even, if those are your inclinations.
Pausing at this time goes against every instinct in my body. I want to keep going: keep moving! Get another idea, start another workshop, make another outreach call, Do Something. But when I’m not in my clear and focused mind, those calls and reachings-out just add to my sense of fragmentation — and they’re not good business/relationship decisions! If I connect with someone during a time of extreme busyness and nebulous focus, I am less likely to be clear in my intent with them, less able to communicate clearly about the sort of work we could do together, less able to follow up effectively. So I end up with a whirlwind of threads all around me, I make myself into a maypole of unfinished business, and I further this story that i carry that I’m endlessly busy and have too much to do.
And what happens when I stop? When I take a break in the middle of everything (in the middle, in fact, of my unfinishable business) to go for a walk or run, to clear my head of All That Needs Doing, to be all the way present with a friend or beloved, to just rest?
The panic is this: once I stop, I won’t ever start again. I’m just too tired, too overwhelmed. I’ll be done forever. So let me just finish this one more thing. one more. Just one more — Then I’ll rest. (but the one more is never-ending)
Maybe you have felt this way about crying: If I let the tears come, I’ll get flooded. I’ll never stop crying. I won’t be able to go to work or take care of my family or my pets or get anything done because I’ll just be crying all the time.
I have felt that way — and at those times, when I did cry, I did have the experience of an entire ocean wave of grief trying to move its way up through my throat and out of my body through the sobs. But I didn’t cry forever. I’d cry an hour or so, sometimes, but then the sobs would ease, I would get sleepy or soothed, and I’d stop for awhile. I might cry on and off for a day, if I had that space, but what I learned, what my body taught me, was that I could both cry really big and still live my adult life. I could make space for what needed releasing without it taking me down.
I don’t compartmentalize as well as I used to; nor do I have the same need in my life at this point in my healing. Compartmentalization was a powerful and necessary coping strategy: I kept all of my trauma on this side of my life, so that when I was out in the world, no one else I knew had to see it. So, of course, when the rage wanted room to move out of me, or the sorrow wanted releasing, I got terrified. Those emotions might break through the walls I’d created to keep myself contained and safe. They might want out of the small space I made for healing and access to the different parts of me (the friend, the work girl, the facilitator, the survivor advocate, etc.) — and I’d get terrified at the thought of opening up those walls. What if the trauma got out, got everywhere, got everyone else all stained?
Making space for rest, for reflection, has also left me with that feeling of panic: if I get quiet, do I have to be with what I’m really feeling? But I don’t have TIME to feel right now! I have to keep going going going. If I stop now, all the parts will come together — and I’m spinning so fast right now that the centrifugal force is keeping all my different selves well away from one another. When I slow down at times like these, I get dizzy, just like I used to when I’d spin my body around and around, arms flung out away from my sides, head back, body racing like a top.
The slowing down comes easier now, though it’s not easy. It’s a muscle, just like writing practice is a muscle, like all the other parts of self care comprise a muscle we can flex and hold around our healing selves.
What I find now, when I take a break in my work, when I pause to do something completely different, is that after a period of time (an hour, an afternoon, a weekend), I find myself quite ready to return to the work, newly energized, more clear, able to engage more deliberately: it’s what I want to be doing, rather than what I feel like I have to be doing. And when I am conscious of/and acting in choice, everything works a bit more smoothly.
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What happens for your body when you (or your character) think about taking a break from your work? When you imagine taking an hour away from the desk, or a weekend away from all that needs doing Right Now? Can you write into that feeling? What do you imagine will be the outcome of such a break? What’s the worst case scenario? What’s the best? You might start with the phrase, If I stop now, I’ll… (or If she stops now, if he stops now, if we stop now…) Follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go.
I’m grateful for the ways that you allow rest to come to you, in tiny increments, in breath, in sleep — and in larger stretches of time, too. Thank you for your spaciousness with others around their need for breaks — and for the ways you are creating that spaciousness for yourself, too. Thank you for your words.