Between Christmas and New Year’s, my husband and I worked many long, hard hours catching up on months of business bookkeeping that had piled up during busy months of travel and performances. Then we spent two and half days in silence, followed by two more days unplugged on a couple’s retreat here at our own lovely Healing Sanctuary. Cozy fires, hot tub soaks, time to talk and connect and look at the Bigger Picture (including both our individual and combined goals and intentions) — all wonderfully renewing. We even did a 10-day cleanse fast.
By Monday, January 4, we emerged, ready to greet the new year! I told myself, “That was great! Now I’m recharged and ready to go, ready to tackle the many piles and projects with a renewed sense of ease and enthusiasm.”
Trouble was, there was a much deeper, much louder inner voice screaming, “I’m not ready yet! I need a real break!”
Two days later, I got my break — both bones, in my left wrist — when I fell on the ice on our front steps.
COCOONING (SORT OF)
That was January 6. Nine days later, I had non-anesthetized surgery and joined the ever-growing ranks of bionic humans, fortified by strategically placed titanium plates and screws. (See previous blog post for that story.) Now, approximately eight weeks post-surgery, I am just barely beginning to feel like I’m emerging from a very necessary sort of “cocooning” phase in which I’ve been immersed.
By all outer appearances, it may not seem like I’ve been in a very insular cocoon.
During that time, I’ve shown up at a variety of classes, performances, auditions, and meetings, and made appearances as the playwright of my first produced play. And yet, my energies have been demanding that I stay as inwardly focused as possible. When surgery didn’t slow me down enough, my already taxed immune system succumbed to the gnarly chest grunge that’s been sweeping the country this winter. The combination of the two did the trick — slowed me way down.
I will admit, however, that my “way slowed down” period was still only relative. Even while lying in bed with my entire hand, wrist, and arm aching and a deep cough convulsing my fevered body, I spent a goodly (or badly?) number of hours working on my laptop, one-handedly pecking at the keys. I was as wiped out as I can remember being in… decades, perhaps?. But still, I found it hard to just stop, even though my heart and soul were begging me to. And herein lies the beginnings of my learning from this most recent life chapter. (Still very much a work in progress!)
I’m sure anyone who knows me well would attest to the fact that I’m always really busy. And yet, even though I’ve often felt maxed by all the demands pulling on me from umpteen directions, for some reason, I simultaneously pretty much always felt like I really wasn’t that busy, and in fact I usually felt like I was not doing enough. It seemed as if I could/should be able to handle the various other things that just weren’t getting done (the same unsorted piles on my desk, the months-behind accounting for my business, and so on) or that I should be able to say, “Sure!” to the things I simply couldn’t, because of the simple fact that there are only so many hours in a day. (“No, I can’t schedule just one more podcast or lead just one more group right now! In fact, I can’t even handle one more email or phone call! Everyone please just go away and leave me alone!”)
That’s what I really wanted to say. (And did, a few times, in the privacy of my own home.) Ironically, as I spewed this directive to the Universe — another way of expressing my need for a “real break” — I could see in my mind’s eye a visual I’d created for a talk I’d given many years before, which listed the symptoms of burnout.
“Really?” I thought. “Burnout?”
But as I reflected on the lifestyle symptoms of burnout —
* Working too much, without enough time for relaxing and socializing
* Being expected to be too many things to too many people
* Taking on too many responsibilities, without enough help from others
* Not getting enough sleep
— I realized I had allowed myself to gradually slip into a state of being in which those, and several other symptoms of early-stage burnout, fit like a glove.
That was humbling, and hard to admit, given the nature of the work I do. In the last few decades, I’ve helped thousands of folks de-stress and find balance in their lives. I recalled having read decades of research regarding burnout, largely within the workplace, showing that burnout is not merely an individual problem, “it’s an organizational problem, created by dysfunction in the structure and functioning of the workplace itself.” (I’d go further and say it’s a cultural or societal problem. A big one.)
Nonetheless, here I was, feeling way off center, cut off from my Source of spiritual strength, like I knew nothing, and had nothing to give to anyone. Pretty classic burnout. (I didn’t feel this every minute, mind you, but enough minutes that it got my attention.)
PAIN and COMPASSION
In retrospect, I believe what finally pushed me over the edge into early-stage burnout was I came to know first-hand the extreme challenge of being in constant pain or discomfort.
The silver lining of anything we go through is the level of compassion it can afford us in understanding what others have gone through, or continue to live with every day. In these past weeks, I’ve shed tears — of guilt, empathy, self-forgiveness, love — as I’ve understood in a new way the physical and emotional pain my mother lived with; my sister, my nephew, my neighbor, the thousands who live in war zones…
The list goes on. And on. Experiencing even a relatively mild level of chronic pain has given me a freshly deepened sense of compassion for the suffering that manifests in so many ways in this physical world.
I’ve created very successful CDs for pain, I’ve helped many clients in pain, and I’ve certainly experienced pain before, many times. For short durations, I’ve even dealt with chronic pain myself. But this time’s been different. I’ve gotten a whole new insight into living with pain. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that I’ve recently entered my sixties, and aging has become a newly relevant issue for me. Or because I’ve had various challenges off and on for the past several years that have begun to emotionally compound themselves.
Perhaps it’s knowing so many people for whom physical discomforts are simply a way of life, often an ironic repercussion of living longer lives in our new and improved 21st century bodies.
We are held together with plates and screws, supported by bionic knees and hips and whatnots, aided by medications that extend and “improve” our lives. We are slaves to time and labor-saving inventions and technologies. We have the ability to be connected in countless ways, 24/7. Yet, more and more, it seems there is a growing epidemic of overwhelm, burnout, and hopelessness, a sense of “the faster I go the behinder I get.” A fundamental sense of disconnect, and aloneness.
AS I HEAL MYSELF, I HEAL THE WORLD
As Socrates said, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” And yet, in our ever-increasingly fast-paced lives, how often do we afford ourselves the time to stop and reflect? To feel? To assess?
I personally have found if I don’t build time like that into my daily schedule — whether it be a morning meditation, a walk in nature, a meaningful connection with a friend or loved one — if I allow life to keep happening to me, then I end up where I recently found myself — exhausted, gritchy, resentful, not sleeping well. Because my need for that kind of reflective time, to connect to Source, is so great, I’ve realized if I don’t create time for it during daylight hours, I will ultimately find myself lying there in the wee hours, listening to and feeling what I’ve been too busy to tune into and assimilate during the day.
We are living in a time of unprecedented change and challenge. In order to remain here as a species much longer, we must be willing and able to step back, and “unplug” on a regular basis. To find a place of simple “peace and quiet” within our own beings. We must give ourselves an opportunity to recognize and acknowledge what’s not working , and readjust, in our personal lives, as well as in our global society. And here’s the key point: the latter cannot fully happen without the former.
So, I invite and urge you to join me in reexamining and readjusting your personal priorities. As each of us creates time for personal rebalancing on a regular basis, we become more effective agents of planetary change.
As I keep this larger perspective in mind, I find it easier to allow myself time to step back, slow down, and rebalance when needed. (Like, now!) To create more quiet, meditative time, to nurture and heal my being in whatever ways are necessary. To let go of what no longer serves, and in so doing, prepare for the exciting and transformative times ahead.
By recognizing and honoring my needs in the present moment, and finding a sense of balance in my daily routines, I am concurrently becoming a more active participant in the revealing of the new paradigm. As I heal myself, I heal the world.
Which in this moment means… I’m going to take a nap!