When was the last time you took a day, or even a few minutes, for yourself? I mean truly for and with yourself without the distractions of work, technology, or other busyness? I observed a group of women do just that this past Saturday when I had the privilege to co-facilitate a women's retreat. These women gave themselves the gift of self-care, self-discovery, and self-renewal. One participant said it was nourishment for her soul.
There are many of us out there who could benefit from more soul nourishment, disconnecting from the busyness of life and spending some time in stillness and silence. This can be hard to do, though, can't it? Why is that? What makes it so hard to turn off the distractions and spend some quiet time alone? I struggled with this for most of my adult life. As a driven over-achieving perfectionist, I could not tolerate sitting around, doing nothing. Time not working on one of my to-do lists was time wasted! There was always something that "needed" to be done. I didn't like being bored so even on vacation, I was unable to relax. I was always doing something.
My personality traits and natural talents certainly contributed to this behavior. In StrengthsFinder speak, my talents of Responsibility, Learner, Achiever, and Maximizer are all wonderful talents. And when combined together, they are a recipe for hurried-ness and busyness. These, when combined with life experiences, also created some very strong assumptions, beliefs, and stories (such as: people value me for what I get done). These assumptions, beliefs and stories were connected to some very strong fears (such as: If I'm not doing anything, then how can I add value? What will people think of me if I don't do that today?).
In his book, In Praise of Slowness, Carl Honoré said that "as we hurry through life, cramming more into every hour, we are stretching ourselves to the breaking point" and we miss real connection with people. That's exactly where I found myself. I was so busy completing my to-do lists that I forgot what, and who, was most important in my life. Even though I was surrounded by loving people, I still felt lonely. In the midst of all my hard work, I didn't work hard enough at deepening these relationships.
And I would add that when we are busy rushing around, we also lose connection to our real self. I got so busy accomplishing one thing after another in rapid succession, that I lost touch with who I really was and what I really wanted. I had several people ask me in a pretty short window of time what I enjoyed doing when I wasn't at work. And I didn't know how to answer those questions. I didn't know what I enjoyed doing in my "spare" time. Partly because I didn't have any spare time, and partly because I had lost touch with those parts of me that were outside of the work environment.
It has taken several years to begin practicing the art of restful solitude and rediscovering my true self. And there wasn't just one thing that worked for me. My journey has included many puzzle pieces. I took my first ever vacation by myself at a quiet retreat center where there was no TV or phone in my room, where cell phone service was spotty at best, and where I had ample time to be alone and reflect. And I liked it. A lot. When I became a mother, I realized that there was more to life than running around chasing incomplete to-do lists so I enjoyed quality time with my daughter, playing or taking long slow walks outside. I reconnected to God and am strengthening my spirituality. I read a variety of books that give me ideas about what solitude is and how to do it. When I walk or run outside, I leave my headphones at home now. I reserve one day per month when nothing is on my calendar; it's a day for me to do whatever I feel like doing that day, even if that means doing nothing. I'm releasing old assumptions, beliefs, and stories about how I am "supposed" to be living my life. I am letting go of the expectations that come along with being an over-achiever. I spend time reflecting on what I most wanted my life to look like and how I want to feel.
I'm certainly not perfect yet. There are still some days where I work more hours than I intend to. But overall, I'm allowing much more time for other priorities besides just work. I'm getting better about leaving my desk by 5:00 so I can spend a few hours with my family in the evenings. Sometimes this means I leave unfinished tasks at my desk for the next day, and I'm okay with that. I am getting better about not taking on too much at one time, and scheduling time for those things that have real, not artificial, deadlines. When I need a day off, I take a day off. I've come a long way in my comfort with rest and solitude and I no longer feel "bored" when I'm not doing anything.
I'm also learning more about myself. Through personal reflection, I'm becoming more aware of which parts of me are real and which false parts I've created over time. I'm becoming more comfortable in my own skin. Rather than just rushing along and skimming the surface, I'm starting to go deeper in life, in my experiences, in my relationships. And I'm enjoying life much more.
Find Your Right Speed
In Praise of Slowness, Honoré encourages us to slow down, which does not necessarily mean slowing down in every aspect of life. He suggests we slow down where it makes sense for us, and to do what we need to do at the right speed. He reminds us that there is no one-size-fits-all formula for this; everyone must choose the right pace that works for them and makes them happy. "The great benefit of slowing down is reclaiming the time and tranquility to make meaningful connections - with people, with culture, with work, with nature, with our own bodies and minds."
How about you?
What has your experience been with hurried-ness and busyness?
How comfortable are you with stillness, solitude, and rest?
In what ways do you nourish your soul?
How do you maintain meaningful connections with people, with your work, and with yourself?