So, you get through a really rough, chaotic time where you did more than your fair share of heavy-lifting and you think, ‘Ah, I’ve done it. It’s over. I can rest.’ And then, exactly seven minutes later, the Next F*cking Thing hits and all your special occasion, top shelf uncharitable thoughts come out, along with some flying spittle.
Life as a grown-up human feels relentless. It seems there’s no respite, or not nearly enough. Especially for those of us who are bad at relaxing (raises hand).
Looking for rest in all the wrong places
We think that if we go through all this struggle and strain, the universe should balance out somehow and give us a break. And the thought of that rest, that dangling carrot of peace, is partly what gets us through the rough times, but somehow we never actually get a good grip on the carrot even if we get a chance to catch up.
Why? Oh, because we made it up. Yeah, the carrot isn’t a thing.
There’s no vacation on the other end. That’s the bad news. The good news is, there’s a whole other way to look at it.
Look for the spaces between things
Where we get hung up is this idea of Big Effort = Big Rest. We see things in these large chunks when really, it’s better to bring it down the pixel level or the molecular one.
Taking things down to the microscopic, zooming right in, we get to see all sorts of lovely space around and between things, like the gaps between cells under a microscope.
We see that A Stressful Day is not one thing, but many things. Many things surrounded by buffers of space, like commutes or bathroom breaks or waiting in line at the impound lot where you can rest your attention on a nice, long inhale and a big, beautiful exhale. Spaces where, because the trains are all effed, you need to walk to the appointment and move at a slower pace.
This can be a practice—looking for the spaces around things. It can be practice to place yourself consciously in those spaces instead of rushing through the transitions. To make something of them. To find peace within them. To rest all the way through the process instead of hoping it arrives at the end.
Get your finger off the trigger
Problem is, the mind wants to latch on to how small these spaces are, and how they are drudgery, too, like all the other drudgery. Going to the bathroom isn’t a break! How can I possibly find peace while squatting over a reeking john with toilet paper stuck to my shoe?!
And I say: Chill, dear mind. Use your powers for good.
We get to train our cute brainboxes to see about anything. And thus far, they’ve practiced seeing the solid block of intensity. They’ve practiced seeing lack and ‘here we go again.’ They’ve rehearsed the “I’m so stressed ouuuuuuuut” speech for so long, they’ve forgotten there are other scripts to perform…and to write.
But, the first step is noticing what storylines are running on automatic. And how they’re contributing to your overall freaked-outedness. And if there’s a way to just delicately lift the needle off the record player and start looking around for other tunes to play.
And now, having practiced seeing lovely empty spaces, having raised a sceptical eyebrow at habitual storylines, having shifted the onus of great power and great responsibility onto your capable, muscular shoulders, you become an artist.
You peer into these variously shaped spaces with curiosity and creativity—and you think, ‘What shall I make in here?’
Is this a moment where I make a ritual of observing the trees I pass on the way to the subway? All the different tree personalities? How green they look in in the rain? How the wind moves them and shapes their branches?
Is this a moment where, in the in-breath between the kids leaving and the work email binging, I take up a pen and write several sentences all in a row? Whether it’s a journal practice or a novel or a I-dunno-I-just-have-this-idea.
It might even be the kind of moment where you see a pattern you’re ready to stop. A boundary that it’s time to build. A hole you patch up, for real this time, instead of leaking your precious life force out of it and giving away your power.
And I should tell you there’s no limit to possibility here.
A dear friend of mine and I have created an imaginary escape hatch for days that are Entirely Too Much. It’s a magical place called Fuckthisshit Island and no one is invited there but us. We have BBQs and fancy cocktails and dig our toes into the warm sand. We leave all the bullshit behind and take a moment to catch our breath.
So then, the task is to gently build a little muscle around making these conscious choices.
We don’t need to make an epic project out of it. It’s just seeing, ah, I can do this again. And if you can do it again then it can become a real thing in your life. You create a habit, you make something, but more deeply affecting than that: you build trust.
Trust starts to knit itself between the part of you that really needs a rope to hang onto when things get squirrelly and the part of you that knows, now, how to make that happen.
Because it isn’t necessarily Life And The Universe keeping you from rest or from the space to create, it’s that subtle, fragile trust in yourself. That when the opportunity comes, you won’t sell yourself out.
That you’ll allow yourself to notice the spaces and to bring gentleness into your experience. That you’ll fill the spaces well and for your highest good. That when the chance to fill the spaces comes again, you’ll build the muscles you really want to build. The present, creative, funny ones.
The muscle to hold a spacious moment in your hands like a tiny bird and ask, “Should we sing now? Should we sleep? Or should we fly?”