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Can’t stop, won’t stop

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.

Create consciously

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.

Choose again

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?”

Finding your way back to center

I launched a book two weeks ago. A few days before that, I wrote a different book in an intensive three-day workshop process, while co-facilitating said workshop. All told, it was two or three weeks of solid work without a day off. Followed by a week of emotional fall-out (aka constant crying) from some Unexpected Interpersonal Drama the popped up along the way.

Not the worst it’s ever been by any stretch, but definitely a taxing time.

At the end of it, facing my first free day, I felt this tense combination of urgently needing to relax and a complete inability to let myself rest. It was like my engine was still revving alarmingly high and I’d forgotten how to shut it off.

Before my own personal self-care awakening, I spent years in this state. And based on many conversations I’ve had over the past few weeks, many of us do.

Relaxation is a skill

We think it should be innate and obvious—but we practice the opposite so rigorously, running ourselves into the ground with stress and overwork and a compulsion to Go and Do, that relaxation becomes forgotten wisdom. Rest, recovery, relaxation, self-care. All of these things are actual skill sets that we get almost no encouragement to practice. Until it’s too late.

So, how do we find our way back to center when we’ve spun out of balance?

Look it in the eye

The first step, as always, is awareness. A little self-check of ‘hey girl, looks like you’re off the rails’ is often enough to start the process. This isn’t an invitation for a bunch of criticism and recrimination. We don’t need to dogpile punishment on top of a white-hot engine that has momentarily forgotten how to gear down. We just need a gentle, Psst, It’s Time from the little internal voice who always knows what’s what.

A reminder that even if we’ve forgotten how to kill the ignition, we can at least take both feet off the gas pedal to start.

Remember what worked before

In my case, I had this hilarious blank. I’ve spent years building up a massive personal toolbox of self-care practices, but at the moment I needed them, I forgot every single one.

So, just take a minute and calmly think back to what has worked in the past. It doesn’t have to be a huge deal—you don’t have to concoct a huge lavender-scented antioxidant recovery strategy for yourself right now.

You just need to remember one or two things that worked to settle you, and do them.

For me, it was a bath. A 20-minute bath with some sea salt and a couple drops of essential oils. I did this two or three days in a row and it was enough to start the process of unravelling the parts that were wound-up tight.

Trust your tools

Is a sea salt bath the silver bullet that’s going to save your entire life and solve all your problems? Nope, but it’s going to be the One Thing that reminds you of All The Other Things that really work to bring you back into balance.

That bath is going to remind you that you haven’t spent time around big trees and silence in awhile, and you’re going to get yourself to a park or a forest. It’s going to remind you about eating well and drinking enough water. It’s going to let you know that it’s totally okay to book an extra therapy appointment or acupuncture treatment. That what you need is a really great hug and an afternoon reading young adult novels.

It reminds you to make conscious choices on behalf of yourself.

These individual practices bring the big picture back into focus: that going deep with self-care has always served you, and it’s safe—and appropriate and necessary—to do that now.

Clear some space

This is where I tell you to say no. This is where I ask you point-blank if that other person’s needs are really and truly more important than your own well-being.

This is where I ask you how far down the Minimizing Your Own Health road you really want to travel. And where I ask you, gently but firmly, to not go to that barbecue party and not acquiesce to that unreasonable deadline and not offer yourself up as punching bag and serving wench to anyone who walks by.

I want you to nope out on anything that asks you to draw fumes from your already-empty tank for someone else’s benefit.

Does this mean you are offloading all adult responsibility and becoming a self-serving hermit? Uh, no. It means you’re taking a hot second, a solid week, or as long as it damn well takes to feel like yourself again, which is the adultest thing I’ve ever heard of to do.

Chill out about chilling out

There’s a thing that can happen where because you risked a lot to actually take care of yourself for a minute, you feel like you have to Achieve Ultimate Wellness And Personal Transformation.

I give that a no.

It would serve you way better to do a half-ass job at relaxing. For you to stare off into space and completely forget that you were planning to make a decaf almond milk latté, listen to Bach, and read the Dalai Lama’s writings.

Try doing nothing and see how difficult that actually is.

Rest and recovery are not things to accomplish or perform. They aren’t boxes to tick. This isn’t status-update-worthy stuff.

It’s sweaty pajamas and asking for help with the dishes. It’s making it to the farmer’s market, not because you’re going to post about it on Instagram, but because holy God those strawberries are so shinyredsublime they heal a part of you. Because pressing your forehead to the trunk of an ancient oak grounds you. Because watching a bird take a bath in a puddle is so simple and beautiful, it unwinds some of the burdensome complication you didn’t know you were carrying.

Get permission if you need it

Years ago, my psychiatrist would advise me to do the bare minimum. I loved her for that. Now, I keep a couple of friends close to me who, when I can’t seem to let myself off the hook, will do it for me.

These “permission slip friends” are folks who know how hard you work, who see how you put a hundred-and-ten into everything you do, and how deeply you serve everyone in your life. These are people who have your highest self in mind at all times. These are the people who you call when you need permission to phone it in for a second in order to get yourself right.

One of my dearest friends created a beautiful hand-painted sign that reads: Permission granted.

We could all use a sign like that.

What do you do when you can’t seem to slow the spin cycle? Share your strategies in the comments below.

 

Losing your lower self

Dreams are a lot of work.

You’re outside your comfort zone—raw, naked, vulnerable. And you’re working your ass off for something that’s a risk. Maybe it’s utterly new or scarily costly or dangerous to your physical safety. Maybe it’s not supported well by your friends or your spouse or, say, a consumerist, productivity-obsessed culture that eats human souls for tapas.

You’re dangling in the wind and hustling like a mofo all the livelong day.

That shit? Is taxing.

That’s not quite all, though is it? It’s tax season. Your lease is up in a couple months. Your bathroom sink just sprung an objectively fantastic leak. You have to bake 26 gluten-free, peanut-pristine cupcakes by 7:35 a.m. Your boss is crawling directly up your butthole. Your internet connection sucks, and you slept approximately 3.7 hours last night.

You’re TIRED, man.

Ah. But, wait, there’s more. You’re a perfectionist, albeit a recovering one. You’re introverted and sensitive. Your self-esteem could be better (thanks, childhood trauma). Your recurring back injury is threatening to recur, along with your recurring alcoholism. And today, at some point, a subtle or unsubtle combination of the world’s shittiest trifecta—capitalism, patriarchy, and white supremacy—will come over and slap you in the mouth.

Have we hit exhaustion? Oh, yeah. I think we’re there.

So, does anyone blame you for making out with a pint of chocolate ice cream and six consecutive episodes of Brooklyn Nine-Nine?

No, we freaking don’t.

It’s just that you do it every day. Or, at least, more often than you’d like. Enough that your Internal Okayness Monitor is on orange alert. We’re not at red, yet, thank god. But we’re way beyond that peaceful, lagoony bluey-green right now.

When pushed to the limit, we take refuge in our lower selves.

We do the things we know aren’t healthy or helpful. We skip out on self-care. I have been known to actively resent the things I know will help me, like meditation or exercise or looking on the bright side. Sometimes, I just want to be angry and blamey and victimy for awhile.

Sometimes, my pain and rage needs to be heard. And seen.

And sometimes, I need to eat an entire pie. (Pumpkin. With whipped cream. Screw you.)

There’s a subtle connection here with last week’s post on surrender, and I think the common element is that vibrating tension of rage. We work so damn hard on so many levels, and it doesn’t get acknowledged. Not really. Not enough.

So, let’s start with that.

I acknowledge you.

I see you girding your loins and stepping out of safety every single day. I see the risk you take in being who you are. Fighting to use a public bathroom. Doing what’s best for your kids amid judgement and ridicule. Dealing with bullshit microaggressions while launching your new career. Walking the tight rope of “wellness” and the razor’s edge of paying rent.

I see the battles you wage and the risks you take on behalf of your highest, most divine self. And I see the world undermine you and tear at you with its claws.

I see you. I hear you. I feel you.

And even though you feel terribly, desperately alone, and like the hits come from all directions at all times, I’m with you. We’re with you. There’s a whole lot of us. We’re here and we’re watching. Allies. Fellow travellers. Wounded healers, all.

We don’t see you as a freak making life harder on yourself. We see a valiant hero, slashing through the tangled woods.

Now, let yourself rest.

We’ll watch over you while you sleep. Trust us. Imagine that we’ve formed a circle around you, facing out. This is your protection. Here, we’ve gathered some lovely soft leaves for you. Your only job, and I know it’s not that easy, is to let yourself rest.

You know the effects of chronic stress. Of a body always in a state of fight or flight. You also know, intuitively and implicitly, that you can’t go on like this indefinitely.

So, in whatever form that takes, explore the experience of deep rest. Let down your guard for a moment. Sink into it. Like the softest blanket. Rest.

And, when it’s time, eat a piece of fruit.

Something bracing and alive. Like grapefruit or a cold strawberry just from the fridge. Something with that green, awake flavor that seems to contain all of life vibrating inside it.

Now, drink a glass of water. Drink it all the way down until the glass is empty.

Let these things cleanse you from the inside and trust that’s what they’re doing because they are.

See this not as a “healthy snack” but as a sacred ritual. A freshening. A conscious newness. An intentional act in the face of the world’s ridiculous, random folly.

This small offering is a link connecting you with Life and Earth. That which you are. Pure. Unfettered. Part of the larger organism of oceans and plateaus, one-celled creatures and herds of elephants. Fellow travelers. Wounded healers. The heartbeat that started when you were a tiny secret in the womb. Part magic, part carbon, part electricity.

And now, you rise.