I am writing this piece at 1:44am, thanks to my two rescue dogs. While empathy told them I needed the company this week, their dream-state kicks and fidgets jarred me awake.
Many people are kept up at night these days, but for me this is a rare occurrence. Usually if I wake in the middle of the night it’s ignited by a brilliant (or so it seems at the time) idea for a book or a work project. I wake emboldened and inspired and scribble on the chalkboard above my bed, strategically placed for such “midnight ideas”. But this morning, entering day three of my at-home wellbeing retreat, I cannot find my way back to sleep.
2020 is officially getting to me.
My father, with whom I am very close, lost his battle with dementia and unexpectedly passed away last month. The restrictions on his living space were lifted, but my plan to visit him was two weeks too late. I got the call from my mother and, just like that, years of his suffering were over. That day, the sun set. The next day, the sun rose. It felt strange that the world just kept going.
While I knew that I needed the time to grieve and heal, I was exhausted by the thought of having to stop, rest and put myself back together again. Well-intended friends reminded me to take care of myself. To recover from the huge personal loss, the tumult of the year and the tragedy-du-jour of our nation. But I simply just wanted to press on.
Hadn’t I done this enough over the last year? Haven’t we all?
I wanted to stop feeling like such a victim. To stop defining myself and my life in terms of personal loss and disappointments and the injustices we face as a world this year. I was grasping at the future, an uncertain place, in the hopes that if I could just get "there, everything would be better. With all my training and education in meditation, non-attachment and human behavior in addition to 38 years on the planet, I still make these amateur mistakes.
As I was resisting a necessary slow down, I realized — just because you are tired of feeling this way does not mean you do not require time to recover.
The clarity that comes with time to think and check in with ourselves.
If I was going to take time, I wanted it to be an uplifting, positive thing. No wallowing, sad person here (ah, the optimist prevails)! I sat down and designed an at-home wellbeing retreat, filled with all the things I miss, need and crave. A gift to myself, developed out of self-love and not of self-pity (I had tried the wine-and-wallowing-in-Netflix-and-despair plan, void of healthy results). When I started to plan my week I began to ask myself hard questions.
- What do you need?
- What keeps you right?
- What do you miss the most?
- What absence has left a hole in you?
- What restores you?
My healing wellbeing retreat was turning into a depressing exercise in facing reality. Until now, I had been expertly manipulating my own reality with my habitually optimistic, deal-with-it-and-move-on, East Coast take on life. We all arrive at the party on our own time.
As I asked myself these questions, intended to restore me, the loss came rushing in. What do I need? What keeps me right?
- Music festivals
- Traveling to new countries and exploring new cities
- Throwing big dinner parties at the turn of every season
- Hugs and physical touch
- Museums, galleries and new restaurants
- Long, heady (in-person) conversations between friends, usually at the wee hours of the morning in someone’s living room
- Visiting the East Coast to be with family and childhood friends
- Speaking in front of crowds, being on a stage
It was hard to look at, this list of what keeps me right. What I love most about life.
Reality lands for us all at some point, and this week was my time to feel it. To understand that what I love most about life, what puts air back in my lungs is, for the foreseeable future and the first time in my life, unavailable.
Asking hard questions gives us hard answers. These answers are what kept me up tonight. No matter what I do this week, no matter how expertly I design this gift of recovery and restoration, there is still the loss of all the things above. There are still the politics, pandemic, the loss of someone very close to me, rebuilding two businesses, and the additional weight of it all that makes what used to be easy just a little bit harder.
I designed my week to define success as “prioritizing my life over my work”, guided by daily topics now understood to be solidly necessary to my happiness and survival — movement, nature, connection, creativity and culture. I did the best I could to plan according to what is available to me (i.e. exploring a new neighborhood, watching a travel documentary, taking a hike, etc). But if I’m truly honoring this gift of restoring my energy and recalibrating my health, I have to look at it all. We have to look the messy stuff right in the face.
Hours after I got the news of my father I was sitting on my porch with my neighbor, trying to wrap my mind around it all. She asked, “What do you need right now?”. I responded “I think I have to make friends with grief”.
Feel hopeless. Feel sad. Get angry. Feel the unfairness, loss or whatever comes up for you today. You deserve that. Allowing ourselves to experience every feeling we have, even if we’re afraid it will overpower and derail us completely, is what it means to be human. But during these moments of looking fear, loss, anger or any such emotion in the face, we are given the opportunity to make a choice:
- Attach to it.
- Feel it.
- Make friends with it.
When we attach, we hold on.
When we feel, we release.
When we make friends, we accept, learn and grow.
If we let it, the messiness of the human condition makes its point and teaches its lessons. Then, somehow, we wake up and decide we are ready to keep pace with the sun and the moon once again. To rise and to rest as nature intended. It does not serve the bigger picture to stay in fear or anger or sadness or loss, even if it is always there in some way. It does not serve us, in the long run, to remain in a daily loop of what isn’t, when so much is.
As a personal hero of mine recently said, with an earnest laugh, “The universe doesn’t give a f*ck about you”. And he’s right. It’s widely stated that life doesn’t care what we want, it just happens. But the good news is (choosing optimism, because we must), if life doesn’t give a f*ck about us, we are officially required to give a f*ck about ourselves. And each other.
- For one day, one weekend or one week, redefine success as “putting life before work”.
- Instead of asking someone how they’re doing, ask someone what they are struggling with. Stay for the answer.
- Instead of a text, dial the number. Better yet, send a card.
Make a list of all the things you love. Look at it. Smile. Then make another list of all that’s available to you, right now. This, like all things, is temporary.
“We can do hard things.”
— Glennon Doyle