I am an achiever.
Efficiency and effectiveness are my personal guideposts.
Lists are my favourite.
I feel ridiculously overjoyed when I accomplish tasks.
A job 99% finished is not finished to me. Only 100% gets checked off the list.
I am competitive; not with others, but with myself.
My brain automatically schedules me, even when there is nothing official to be done. For example, first coffee, then journaling, then a walk. You get the idea.
In Enneagram-speak, I am a self-preservation 3 with a very strong 4-wing. (If you don’t know what I mean, read this). Essentially, I am a 3 who doesn’t look like a 3. Unlike many type 3s who can easily live out-of-touch with themselves, driven to attain goals and avoid failure at any cost, I am very feeling and very self-aware. Authenticity is a high value for me.
I am a meaning-maker. I see metaphor and story in every part of life.
I have a great desire—even need—to be meaningful.
I have the ability to keep going. To push through. To be strong, or appear strong, even when I am weak. Broken. Tired.
I entered this summer season tired. Bone tired.
There is actually a finite amount of time and energy allotted to us. We cannot keep adding new activities and responsibilities—even when they are amazing, or “such an honour,” or valuable—without letting other things go. Read: “Autumnal Reflections: What Needs to Go?“
Not if we want to be creative. Not if we want to be okay. Not if we want to live fully. Not if we want to be our best selves.
Though, typically, I maintain a high level of self-care, the busyness of my work, a hectic family schedule, finishing a longer-than-planned house flip, sustained relational strain, and life generally, had all left me depleted. Physically & emotionally.
When I became aware that activities I usually love to do held little appeal, I knew it was time to pull back. I was biscuit dough rolled too thin. I was too much bread with too little butter. My soul was demanding silence and solitude, and release from the many responsibilities (both chosen by me and assigned to me). It was time to unclench my fingers from the steering wheel of my own life.
I began picturing myself in child’s pose. Child’s pose is a yoga posture for recovery that literally means not doing and surrender. I knew this was to be my posture for the coming months.
And so, I had to decide what I wouldn’t do this summer…even things that I had formerly enjoyed or that had been life-giving in the past.
I surrendered over-scheduling myself; being busy.
I surrendered my role as “cruise ship director” for my children. This was the summer of “make your own fun, kids!” (though yes, I still drove, and drove, and drove. And drove).
I surrendered planting flowers. I intentionally delayed planting my window boxes until our return from a family vacation at the end of June, because they would have died in our absence. But then, I never did plant them.
I surrendered gardening. For the first time in a decade, I didn’t plant a vegetable garden.
I surrendered making jam.
I surrendered social media.
I surrendered participating in musical theatre with our local theatre company. Even though I felt like I was missing out. Even though I was missing out.
I surrendered chasing after social events and coffee dates.
I even surrendered writing. Or rather, writing for public consumption. I could never abandon my journal writing, lest I go insane.
I surrendered my need to know. I let go of life as I have known it and embraced all the uncertainty, all the discomfort, all the questions, and all the inconsistencies.
My not-doing, aka rest, involved behaviours I believed were restorative; choices that allowed me to maintain an inner posture of child’s pose.
I rested with intense introversion. If you didn’t hear from me this summer, please don’t be offended or hurt. I had to be with myself. Obviously, with family and responsibilities, becoming a full-blown recluse was not in the cards. I saw the occasional friend or family member, but spent most of my time with my husband and kids, or alone.
I rested with intentional silence and solitude. In Henri Nouwen’s book, “The Way of the Heart,” he includes an illustration by Desert Father, Diadochus of Photiki:
“When the door of the steam bath is continually left open, the heat inside rapidly escapes through it; likewise, the soul, in its desire to say many things, dissipates its remembrance of God through the door of speech, even though everything it says may be good…We have been made to believe that feelings, emotions and even inner stirrings of our souls have to be shared with others.”
I rested with mindfulness. In the past, I’ve been the implementer of my own meditation, but this summer I made use of simple apps like Headspace and Calm.
I rested with reading. I read important, nourishing books that grew my brain. And I read ridiculous, fluffy novels that for sure diminished my intelligence (but were terribly entertaining).
I rested with naps. Luxury, I know. Summers “off” allow for this. But don’t be fooled, friends. We teachers work our twelve months in ten! Also, with teenagers, I can lay down for a few minutes and nobody dies. You’ll get there, too, young mamas.
I rested with walks. Sometimes I walked for exercise. Sometimes for fresh air. Sometimes for the release of emotional angst or stress. Sometimes for thinking and listening.
I rested on the sunset deck with my husband almost every evening. We have a deck on the front of our house that overlooks the river. The sun sets on the hills, and if you walk or drive by our house, you’ll often see us there. Probably with drinks. Probably with chips.
My summer of sabbatical was not about indulgence, but about healing. It was about unraveling my natural inclination to take care of everybody, to chase after people, to schedule myself to death, and to seek meaning and worth though doing. It has been about restricting energy flow to certain parts of my life so that other parts may thrive. It’s been about making purposeful decisions about what I do and don’t do.
And, as it turns out, I’m not finished yet. Though life has regained speed, my continued purpose is an inner posture of surrender and not doing. For how long, I’m not certain. The unraveling of everything has been remarkably alluring and I’m compelled to continue on this path.
I’ll write sometimes if I feel like it. Or I might take a nap instead.
Much love to you all in your respective journeys.
Michelle Horrobin says
Thanks Ellen for your reflection and candor. I always appreciate reading your essays. I strive, although it is a struggle, to let go of the ‘busy’. Articles like yours give me hope. Much love friend ❤️
Having courage to unhook is to applauded. Hurrah for you I say! Loved this!!