Rest is highly underrated in our lives. I am not talking about just sleep, although we know we don't get nearly enough of that either, I am talking about "not-doing". I have been running like mad all of this fall, traveling here and there, giving talks, working on projects - wonderful, productive meaningful work.
Finally this week I am simply sitting and realizing how tired I am. But mostly I am realizing how narrow my perspective gets when I become busy. One of the curious gifts of being human is our ability to rationalize what we are doing. I can tell myself many, perfectly self-justified statements explaining me to myself. The busier and more stressed I get the more reasonable those statements appear to me when in fact my view is becoming narrower and I am losing perspective.
The sitting, without the running, brings me to balance. The justifications shrink to the size of peas as I sit. I am here with a pile of peas, realizing that my deepest sense of satisfaction and direction aligns when I am quiet.
It's not that I will ever give up doing. I love doing. It's a question of being skillful in the doing. The doing and the being, when balanced, make the doing effective. Today I just want to sit. Tomorrow I will do many things. Today I want quiet - to hear myself think - to feel myself feel. My voice is small in the midst of the all the noise I live in - the phone, the ding of an arriving email, the media news stories, the friend who needs my attention. My inner voice is just a whisper amid all of that racket. How can I hear it when I am going so fast? How can I listen past the seductions - the needs that I can meet and the praise that I can win?
Sometimes when I get going so fast I complain to myself that I don't know how to prioritize my time. Have you ever had that feeling? That there are so many things to do and you can't figure out which to do first? In our lives there are many choices and needs to be met. We may feel a little frantic not knowing how to take the next step. When I take the time to be quiet and simply sit, the priorities sort themselves out. Then I become efficient.
It's a paradox. I slow down so that I can go fast. But it makes sense. Of course I can't understand what decisions I need to make if I am not listening to myself. And if I don't know which thing to do first, then I waste time doing things over again and I do what I am doing without grace. I find myself getting off track and increasingly wearing myself out.
When I don't sit and listen, when I don't rest, when I run and run, the weariness keeps on increasing. There are many kinds of fatigue- physical, emotional, social, and spiritual, to name a few. Fatigue interferes with everything. I learned recently that driving when you are tired is equivalent to driving when you are drunk. We all know that driving when we are drunk increases our chances of having an accident.
The same thing applies to our lives. Living when we are fatigued increases our chances of having an accident with our judgment. I don't know about you, but I find it easy enough to make mistakes when my judgment isn't impaired. When I am fatigued and rationalizing my way through a situation, the accidents I can cause to myself get bigger. I say things I regret. I rush to do something without weighing the consequences. There's a funny thing about consequences. Whether or not I think about them, they happen. Then I am faced with dealing with them, adding to the weariness.
If I rest and find some perspective - if I am willing to sit in the quiet, take a deep breath, take a little walk, be with myself for a while, hear my inner voice, the choices I make are more liable to be skillful and the consequences more easily managed.
So today I sit - in the quiet - with myself. Today I rest. Tomorrow I will be back in the fray.
Alison Bonds Shapiro, MBA, works with stroke survivors and their families, and is the author of Healing into Possibility: the Transformational Lessons of a Stroke.
Alison B. Shapiro
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