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30 Days of Rest: Day 24

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Chores

My idea of rest does not ever involve chores.

Chores are repetitive.

Done today.

Un-done today.

Only to do again tomorrow.

And yet in this season of rest, I can find no way to avoid them. When I was walking past my neighbor’s house this summer, he announced, ” It’s Saturday! Since I have been four years old, Saturday is chore day.” Sid-The-Neighbor then reminded me of Brother Lawrence and his assertion that if you want to be close to God, wash the dishes.

This is what Wikipedia has to say:

For Brother Lawrence, “common business,” no matter how mundane or routine, could be a medium of God’s love. The sacredness or worldly status of a task mattered less than motivation behind it. “Nor is it needful that we should have great things to do. . . We can do little things for God; I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of him, and that done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself in worship before him, who has given me grace to work; afterwards I rise happier than a king. It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God.”

Brother Lawrence felt having a proper heart about tasks made every detail of his life possess surpassing value. “I began to live as if there were no one save God and me in the world.” Brother Lawrence felt that he cooked meals, ran errands, scrubbed pots, and endured the scorn of the world alongside God. One of his most famous sayings refers to his kitchen:

“The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees before the Blessed Sacrament.” Read more about Brother Lawrence Here.

While Brother Lawrence embodied what it means to bring worship into the mundane, I wanted to bring rest into my dreaded daily tasks. One of the treasures of this time has been seeing what really needs to be done. I am not dusting the blinds or de-cluttering my junk drawer. I am doing the chores that need to be done in order for us to have food, clean clothes, functioning cars, restful days.

I have done these tasks for years. If I am honest with myself, much of drive for simplicity was in hope that someday I could make life small enough that I didn’t have anymore chores. They are so boring. I want to be doing more important things than laundry and dishes. I want to change the world! Who cares about laundry?

I resented these tiny, meaningless jobs that got between me and what I wanted to do with my life. My fear was if I do these jobs, I will be all used up and never get to do what I love. And more days than not, this has been true.

It is becoming apparent that my fears about losing my self in chores echo the fears I had about rest.  Both of these practices are required by all living creatures. We must rest. We must work. This is the simplest formula of what it means to be alive.

I struggle with how much rest my body needs. At times I have been resentful, wishing my body could accomplish more. At times I have felt shame, wondering if this means I am lazy. When I am able to see myself through a lens of compassion, I can see that I think/see/function at a very intense level and that requires tremendous reservoirs of rest that I am responsible for filling.

This journey of rest is about letting go of the resentment that being me, being human, has it’s limitations. Rest is the ultimate path of humility. I can’t do anymore. I am not invincible.

Just because I wanted to do something else besides clean my house, doesn’t mean I believe I am too good for such menial tasks as taking the trash out or scrubbing the bathrooms. I am just like everybody else who has to do work to stay alive, healthy, clean and functioning. It’s annoying, but it’s reality.

What if, like Brother Lawrence, I decide to grant loading the dishwasher and filling the fruit basket full of Honey Crisp apples with the same dignity that I so effortlessly give to counseling, writing, and being there for a friend?

Listen here to a great conversation between Elizabeth Gilbert and Rob Bell about Brother Lawrence. 

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30 Days of Rest: Day 23

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Gratitude

There is a scene in Family Man, where Nicolas Cage knows that he is going to go back to his old life as soon as he goes to sleep, so he tries as best as he can to stay awake as long as possible in an effort to hold onto everything wonderful he had found in his alternate life.

That’s how I felt about yesterday. Because of the stillness of the past few weeks, I was able to really see and acknowledge every gift shared with me. My husband kept saying, “You are so loved.” I most certainly am. But what those loved ones did for me said a lot more about the people in my life than it did about me.

One of the things I had to do last year was to stop looking at Facebook birthday reminders. I missed dozens of opportunities to celebrate my friends and family and I did so intentionally. While that is one of my very favorite things to do in life, it was not an essential, and I knew in order to be the kind of person that had the time, energy and creativity to celebrate the people I love, I needed to establish a sustainable life.

It was humbling to receive the presents, phone calls, messages, cards, and this personalized mug (my funniest gift) when I had given so little to to so few this year.

And that is what made it all so wonderful. I could never do enough to deserve the generosity poured out on me yesterday. That’s the real lesson of these 30 Days of Rest. It’s not about deserving anything.

We can’t work hard enough to earn rest and we can’t do enough to earn love. They are there for us. Always.

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30 Days of Rest: Day 22

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Magic

A signed copy of Big Magic from Elizabeth Gilbert is birthday gift enough. But the most generous gift that she gave to me was what she did not do for us last night.

At the end of an absolutely delicious conversation with Ann Patchett, Liz Gilbert explained that she was not going to have a meet and greet time, which is often expected from these events. She went on to explain that she only has so much energy and as much as she wanted to share the book personally with her readers, she would not be able to sustain the tour healthfully if she did the predictable meet, take pictures and have little bits of conversation with hundreds of people.

She also said that she hates disappointing people and that she was really afraid people wouldn’t like her as much if she did not live up to their expectations. She said, “Guess what happened when I started saying no? People didn’t like me as much.”

My husband looked over at me and smiled while I glowed and received all the validation I needed from one of my literary heroes. This is my story. This is my song.

And speaking of songs, instead of nodding and smiling and trying to connect with each of us individually, she connected with all of us and we sang together.

It was magical.

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30 Days of Rest: Day 21

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Footprints

When I was planning this Sabbatical, I was tapped-phsycially, mentally, and spiritually. I did not have one ounce of energy to lift another piece of furniture and I was beyond emotionally depleted. The people in my life did not deserve much of the irritation and intolerance I was expressing. I knew an important part of these days of rest was healing and tending to these aching needs.

One of the harshest realities about being human is that some of the most difficult moments in life must be traveled alone. Birth and death are examples of the narrow passage we all must travel one person at a time. Healing often includes taking an honest look at past hurts and giving them what they need to heal. So, I expected this stage of healing to be hard and I expected to have to go through it by myself.

Yesterday, I was trying to find an article a friend sent me several years ago and this caused me to scroll through years of old emails. Eleven years of emails, to be exact. It was overwhelming to see all of the encouragement, love, support, kindness and compassion this one friend sent me, as if it was her purpose in life to make sure I was loved well.

Those messages came in and through a thousand other messages: the ones from the school asking for volunteers, the ones from clients scheduling sessions, the ones from my mother-in-law about Christmas lists, the ones updating my Grandpa with attachments of my daughter’s latest writing.

My accidental review of this past decade surprised me.

Those emails revealed to me that I have been loved and supported with obscene abundance. Yes, I have done some really hard things these past few years. Yes, I have been in horrible and scary situations. Like you, I have had many raw, embarrassing, and heart-breaking experiences. Those moments are so consuming that it is hard to acknowledge anything or any one other than the searing pain.

I was reminded of that footprints poem where the woman asks God, “Why is there only one set of footprints during my hardest times?” And God says, “It is because I was carrying you.”

I guess that is what I was expecting, some version of one set of footprints.

Instead, I am looking back on those trying times and seeing not just my footprints, but dozens of others who have had my back, cheered me on, held my arms up, wiped my brow and reminded me every step along the way that I am loved.

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30 Days of Rest: Day 20

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Life-Force

“Dr. Hans Selye is the acknowledged father of the concept of stress. He believed that each of us has a stress savings account deposited in our bodies as our life-force.  The object before us, in his terms, is to spend this account wisely over the longest time span possible.

The difference between a stress savings account and a normal bank account is that we cannot make any deposits into the life-force account. We can only make withdraws. What does it mean to be a big-spender of one’s life force?  To a great extent, it means to overreact to petty circumstances as if they were life or death matters.

More than 90% of our confrontations in life are with imaginary predators and demons. We aren’t facing real enemies or real problems-only the fear of them or imagined projection of them.” ~Denis Waitley, Timing Is Everything

One of the most profound ways that rest can affect my life is to be clear about what is worthy of my life-source. If I only have so much energy in my life time, how do I want to spend it? Maybe the better question is, how do I not want to spend it?

I don’t want to waste life-force on chronic guilt, petty embarrassment, or trying to perfect. If I feel guilty, I can ask myself if I need to change a behavior, make an apology or accept that my value system needs to change. I can use my life-force to ask, change or accept, but just to keep worrying is a nothing but a drain.

If I am embarrassed, I can use my energy to be honest about it, learn from it, and find compassion for myself and others in the bumbling journey of being human, but to increase my self-criticism in hopes of avoiding embarrassment is more waste.

It is fascinating to be moving slow enough to watch myself set up a projector and play out my greatest fears. My little brain can move quickly and it takes a second to realize there is nothing to fear here-except what I have imagined.

Rest from those projections, that’s some amazing kind of rest. If I get to choose, I would would prefer to use my life-force for creating, loving, serving, laughing, and playing-and dealing with real life issues, not just the ones in my head.

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30 Days of Rest: Day 19

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Your Gift

“And so, for me, being quiet and slow is being myself, and that is my gift.”

~Fred Rogers, The Simple Faith of Mr. Rogers

Today begins the 3rd phase of my sabbatical.

In Stage 3 of our sleep cycle, our brain produces Delta waves which cause the mind and body to be less reactive to noises and activities in the environment. When I first read about this ability our brain has to be less responsive to the environment, I was encouraged that it might be possible to pull far enough away from my constant triggers that even when the triggers were present, they failed to shake me.

It happened.

I found it. A stillness that was so out of the ordinary, I have no memory to compare it to. In therapy, we call this a resource moment. My brain and body were creating pathways to places that I had never visited before. A place I now know exists and can visit again. Maybe anytime I want to.

While opening my phone to listen to some music on my walk, I was pinged with some messages and I didn’t react. I closed the windows and continued on the path around the dog park. Those messages did not change the course of my day-but what is even more significant is that they did not make me second guess where I was choosing to be.

Mr. Rogers, my spiritual guru, said that being slow and quiet is being himself. He believed that in being ourselves we could offer our true gifts to the world.

What is your gift of being today?

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30 Days of Rest: Day 18

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Sabbath Tea

This weekend was fabulous and full of everything except rest. Both of our kids were in a show that ran Thursday through Sunday and with Sunday night being their cast party, there was no space for our family meal.

Instead, all four of us got blankets and mugs of hot tea and sat outside around the fire table.

As much as the pace of life has slowed down for me, it’s still going too fast. This intention to slow down as a family, even if it is just one hour a week, is giving me a chance to capture those moments I don’t want to miss.

Of course, I will miss them. Soon.

But I am not missing them today, that’s the difference.

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30 Days of Rest: Day 17

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Nourished

Our apartment looks out on an office building and a hotel that is currently under construction. We wake up every morning to the sounds of building, the sounds of productivity. It starts at exactly 6 am. Then, while I drink my coffee and journal, I watch the car fill up the parking lot in phases as men and women walk through the doors of their daytime world carrying mini coolers and brown paper lunch bags.

It is uncomfortable to watch everyone around me be so productive while I sit and rest. I am suffering from some sabbath guilt. Why do I get to rest? What did I do to deserve this? My friends who are single moms, who have toddlers at home, who are the primary breadwinners in their family-they don’t get to have 30 days of rest. Why should I?

All I know today is that I was tired. A serious, deep, carbohydrate-craving kind of tired and I needed a powerful dose of rest. I have access to it, it is my top priority and I am the only one who can take care of me. To not rest, because no one else can, would be like depriving myself of good nutrition just because I know not everyone can afford it.

We live in a exhausted world full of tired people who are aching for a rest they don’t even know exists. I can write about it. I can talk about it. I can recommend it, even prescribe it to others. But if I don’t live what I believe in, if I don’t practice what I know is best for me, rest is just an ideal. Something we all wish we could do, but, oh well.

I have NEVER kept a plant alive. Ever. This little pot of flowers has been with me for over a year. While I was just proud of keeping it alive, not until we moved into this apartment have I seen it bloom like this. I thought it only had a couple of flowers at any give time. Today, it has six full blooms and four more on their way to the sun.

While of of those good citizens of the world diligently re-trace their steps every day and I sit here resting, this little plant thrives. These delicate flowers remind me of what happens to us when we sit still and take in what we need.

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30 Days of Rest: Day 16

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Light Bulb Moment

I knew that sleep was important to me. I mean, really, it is culturally not acceptable to set aside 30 days to rest without the validation of a major illness or severe depression. But, I know myself, without rest, I feel noxious, anxious, angry, and start to develop cold-like symptoms. My brain stops working and nothing sounds like fun except sleep. I am no good to anyone without good rest.

I thought it was just me! 

“Within the first 24 hours of sleep deprivation, the blood pressure stuarts to increase.  Not long afterward, the metabolism levels go haywire, giving a person an uncontrollable craving for carbohydrates.  The body temperature drops and the immune system gets weaker.  If this goes on for too long, there is a good chance that the mind will turn against itself, making a person experience visions and hear phantom sounds akin to a bad acid trip. At the same time the ability to make simple decisions to recall obvious facts drops off severely.  It is a bizarre downward spiral that is all the more peculiar because it can be stopped completely, and all of it’s effects will vanish, simply by sleeping for a couple of hours.” (From Dreamland by David K. Randall)

A couple of hours of sleep and, viola, like magic our body begins to heal and regulate itself. From what I can understand so far, as a result of artificial light during dark hours, our brain begins to override our bodies natural rhythms. Our brain thinks it is time to be awake and our bodies are ignored.

Another study that is rocking my world is this one from 2009: “Researches in Israel used satellite photos to chart the level of electric light at night in 147 communities. Then, they placed satellite photos over maps that showed the distribution of breast cancer cases. Even after controlling for population density, affluence, and other factors that can influence health, there was a significant correlation between exposure to artificial light at night and the number of women who developed the disease. If a woman lived in a place where it was bright enough outside to read a book at midnight, she had a 73% higher risk of developing breast cancer than a peer who lived in a neighborhood that remained dark after the sun went down.  Researchers think that the increased risk is a result of lower levels of melatonin, which may affect the body’s production of estrogen” (Randall).

Sleep isn’t a luxury. Sleep isn’t what lazy people do. Sleep isn’t for those with no ambition.

In fact, according to the research, sleep is more vital to health than nutrition or even genetic make-up.

There are so many pieces of information I still can’t process, like our natural rhythm to sleep in two separate shifts, called the first and second sleep. But for now, I’m off to get some sleep masks and hang several panels of light blocking curtains.

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30 Days of Rest: Day 15

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Sweet Dreams

“Sleep isn’t a break from our lives.

It’s the missing third of the puzzle of what it means to be living.”

~David K. Randall

When I first began lifting weights in college, I was annoyed and bored at the prescription to rest between sets. There I was all dressed in my workout clothes, ready to get sweaty and get strong. Sitting there felt counter-productive. I had to simply trust my instructor that this rest time was just as important to my strength training as the heavy lifting.

95% of me is 100% certain that this time of rest is absolutely essential for me to be able to do what I want to do with the rest of my days.

5% is getting annoyed and bored. I might be just a teeny bit scared that I am having too much fun. What if I have officially  lowered the bar so far down that I won’t be able to lift it again? Could it be true that just sitting here is making me stronger?

In Dreamland, David Randall writes about an experiment where he deprived his subjects of artificial light (a suspected culprit of sleep disorders):

“They spent the first few weeks of the experiment like kids in a candy store, making up for all of the lost sleep that had accumulated from staying out late at night or showing up at work early in the morning. After a few weeks, the subjects were better rested than perhaps at any other time in their lives.”

Maybe I’m not just sitting on a sweaty bench. Maybe I am just spending some quality time in a candy store, having the time of my life.