Summer Observations About Rest and Guidance by Jennifer Louden
I had tea with my dear friend Billy on Friday. She had just returned from two weeks in a small town in Mexico, where her daughter surfed and she rested. It was the first time in a very long time that Billy allowed herself a deep rest. She was telling me how depressed she had been since coming home because she couldn't understand why her life at home felt so different than her life in Mexico. "I want to bring that feeling home, I don't want to lose it," she said.
I remarked, "You can certainly look at what you are doing at home that no longer serves you. You can jettison what drains your energy. Being away offers us perspective to see what isn't working. But I also believe you experienced a true retreat, the deep replenishment of rest, and it is the rare person who gets enough of that. You can't bring that home, but you can grasp the need to give it to yourself in the future -- and not every ten years but every month, every season, every year."
When we do get to rest, we become ravenous for more. We start to think about how to change our lives to get more -- Billy was plotting to buy a house in Mexico. But while some change at home can be vital I think the real message is: we need retreats, we need deep rest and we just don't give ourselves permission to get it. We allow ourselves some, yes, but with conditions. Perhaps shorter than we really need or with people along that don't really allow us to rest or by going to places that don't replenish us.
My daughter and I visited Yellowstone National Park last month on our way back from a week of horseback riding in the Windriver country of Wyoming. By the end of our Yellowstone day, we were exhausted from the heat and the sheer overwhelming force of the land and we were also sad. Over dinner we talked about how we had overheard one man remark, "I'm not stopping to see that moose. We've already seen one moose. I'm only stopping for a bear." Yellowstone majesty and mystery felt like something to check off his list of been there, done that. I didn't feel sad because of him though, I felt sad because I had felt traces of that the same feeling in myself during our day. "Let's ring the most we can from this day, let's consume Yellowstone! Let's not leave until we have seen every animal on the park service's map -- let's eat everything on the menu."
I had to keep reminding myself to follow Lilly's lead, to linger, to poke, to explore, to get away from the crowds and off down a shady trail, and to know we could spend the next ten years walking and looking and never know this place -- bison may walk down the middle of the highway and yet they will always remain an untouchable mystery.
As Lilly and I strolled around the geysers in the twilight, I mused about why people are often so irritable and frayed when they travel. Sure we are tired and hot and out of our comfort zone. But could it be that we know what we yearn for, what we pine for, and we aren't getting it? A yearning for deep soul rest and deep soul connection with those we love, and yet what we often end up with is more busyness and more distraction, snared by habits of consumption to move farther away from the mystery of our heart's desire.
THE PACE OF GUIDANCE
God is making it abundantly clear to me lately that the only way I can live, let alone move forward with my projects, is to rest, listen and trust spiritual guidance, MOMENT BY MOMENT -- not just for the big decisions. I must, as Christina Baldwin says in her book The Seven Whispers, "Move at the pace of guidance."
What my guidance is telling me, that even after taking a month off, I need more rest. That as much as I am chomping at the bit to get going, I have to move at the pace that feels right and that pace, in this moment, involves more rest. Guidance is also telling me that the black and white world of extremes I love to inhabit -- that I either lay perfectly still for three months in a 19th century sanatorium OR work 10 hours a day -- is faulty. I can move forward AND rest but only by listening.
An example of what that looks like today: I went to sleep last night with fantasies of all I would get done today. Up at 6, writing on the novel, exercise, clean the study/guest room, finish notes on a friend's novel, edit this newsletter, sign books for the store sale, visit with parents, weed, do something fun with Chris and Lilly, maybe go see Winged Migration with Lil tonight. I wake up this morning and already the to-do list train has left the station, and my soul is the caboose. My jaw is tight before I'm even finished washing my face.
This is not moving at the pace of guidance.
Catching myself during my morning meditation, stopping, relaxing my tense body, loving myself, accepting that I am doing it again, and then asking, "What do I most need to do right now?" is moving at the pace of guidance. The fact that I have to do this four times before noon is also moving at the pace of guidance. Or as C.S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity, "It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other, larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. Standing back from your natural fussings and frettings; coming in out of the wind."
I am at the end of a long, long learning cycle; a cycle in which the lesson has been to listen and act on what I hear, with no guarantees. I have thought in the past that if I listen, I must do it perfectly and then the results would be perfect. What a horrible burden and a load of crap. If there is evil in the world, it takes the form of perfectionism. Sometimes I'm listening to Divine Guidance and sometimes I'm listening to my wily, tricky ego, and sometimes I'm listening to my morass of sticky neuroses. How can I really know unless I listen and see what happens? In the past, I bounced between the twin poles of "But listening hasn't been 100% reliable" and "But I can't listen now, I have too much to do/have to make money/people need this done now." What I'm sensing -- and I could be wrong, remember there are no guarantees -- is that if I disregard what I hear these days, I will grind to a halt faster and suffer more, than ever before. It's like the spiral on this learning has grown very small and I get almost instant feedback if I push the river, if I insist on my agenda, if I stay invested in my way.
I wish I could say this is all exciting and spiritually satisfying but mainly, at least today, it feels scary, far too slow and tedious.
Sigh. (But with a smile.)
Jennifer Louden is a best-selling author of five books, including the classic The Woman's Comfort Book and her newest Comfort Secrets for Busy Women. She has appeared on numerous TV and radio programs, including Oprah. She's also a certified coach, creator of learning events and unique life balance products. Visit http://www.comfortqueen.com