I spent yesterday doing something I almost never do: absolutely nothing. As a reforming workaholic, I’ve been diligently striving to find the balance between work, rest, and play. Not that it’s been easy. Whenever I’m stressed out by things I can’t control, my go-to pabulum of choice is always getting things done. I could give Larry the Cable Guy a run for his money (not that I’ve ever watched his show) by all the stuff I can cram into twenty-four hours.
Take last Thursday…
Up at five for morning meditation. Then I did two loads of laundry by the time I had washed the dishes, fed the cats, scooped litterboxes, straightened up the house, and headed off to the Rolfing office. From nine until three primed the woodwork in the waiting room, then gave it two coats of fresh paint. Not to mention that after a ten-minute lunch, I did the same for three of the four walls so the fellas who were going to help me move furniture the next day could do so in a completed space.
Even though I was whipped from rinsing out paint brushes, buckets, and rollers, the adrenaline kicked into high gear and I emptied the trash, hauled nasty, old vertical blinds to the dumpster, vacuumed the entire space, then sat at my desk and completed paperwork for the day. By the time I got home, I barely had time to grab a quick shower before my evening yoga class. All of this culminated in a jaunt to the gym where I swam and/or ran laps in the pool until I could hardly move. Driving home as twilight fell, I thought, You’ll sleep well tonight, Kate.
Alas…it was not meant to be. One of my yoga students recently taught me that our bodies need a certain amount of energy to fall asleep, and as I had exhausted all of my reserves during the day, I tossed and turned until two AM, only able to doze for a few hours before I woke with a start at 5:30. Friday and Saturday were jammed packed from start to finish, but I did manage to get in a twenty-minute nap before I headed off to a graduation party.
So when Sunday rolled around, I automatically woke up ready and raring to check a few things off of my endless “to do” list. Still, I promised myself that once my trips to Target, the gas station, and the grocery store were complete, I could come home and do whatever I wanted. Which I did…happily and open-heartedly.
Years ago when I was in the final stages of healing an eating disorder, I admitted to someone, “Sometimes I wish I had been addicted to something I didn’t have to face three times a day in order to survive. It’d be a lot easier to pass up alcohol or cigarettes than to have to sit here and make myself eat.”
These days I fully acknowledge that back then, I simply switched addictions. Over the next several years, while my eating habits greatly improved, I worked harder. Worked out more frequently. Repainted every room in my house – three times. Hiked incessantly. Volunteered my time here, there, and everywhere. Eventually I completely burned out and needed to start at ground zero. I thought that moving to California would hit the reset button of my life, but all it did was reveal to me the areas that still needed more attention. When the Basin Ridge Fires came to Big Sur and the majority of the people left Esalen, our work crew was down to brass tacks.
“At least your work addiction has a purpose now,” one of my close friends told me while we cleared brush, hauled water, and tried to keep the farm and garden viable. “We really need you ‘cause you’re a brick house.”
His comment reminded me of how much my high school classmates loved having me on their team when we were assigned group projects. Especially when I was taking high doses of NoDoz or over-the-counter stimulants, I got a lot of stuff done, picking up the slack of anyone who fell behind in the assignment. In college I switched to caffeine, drinking a two-liter bottle of diet pop…every single day. Most nights I slept for four hours at the most and was up early, a can of Tab in my hand as I boarded the bus on the way to campus. It’s no wonder that when I came home in the evening and laced up my running shoes, I could sprint a mile in under five minutes. Not that I could sustain that kind of Tasmanian Devil-esque pace for long.
Burnout has become as familiar to me as a Phoenix who allows itself to be destroyed in order to rise up from the ashes, renewed and reborn.
A few weeks ago, my physical therapist showed me some exercises to help get my pelvis and spine back in alignment. “Go really slow, Little Speedy,” Kim chided me. “You need to really take your time with this one.”
“That makes it so much harder!” I chucked, but did what she said so that my hypermobile pelvis would stay still while I lifted one leg, then the other. Smiling at her, I asked, “Can you image what I was like on coffee or diet Coke?”
“You were probably moving so fast, I would have never seen you,” Kim laughed. “I imagine you nearly vibrated right off the planet.”
Which is probably the reason I became a workaholic in the first place.
It’s easy to get things done when I’d rather not engage with a world that often confuses or confounds me or when I’m dealing with the aftermath of broken relationships or interpersonal struggles that follow no rhyme or reason. As I’m my own boss, work is a solace. A sanctuary. A place that’s predictable and completely within my control. I decide how many yoga classes I’ll teach. I choose when and where they will take place. I elect to write or not write on any given day and build my schedule around that which is most important to me. It’s simultaneously a freedom and a huge responsibility, for if I’m not working, I’m not making money. I have no paid vacations. No built-in health insurance. No retirement, other than what I set aside on my own.
When there are golden moments, I readily bask in them.
When the s%&t hits the fan, I’m the only one who gets splattered.
At the end of the day, I need to work, not only to pay the bills, but to find a sense of purpose while living an unconventional life. My legacy won’t be through the children I leave behind, but the footprints of the books I write, the lessons I teach in a yoga class, the love and kindness I share with my friends. It’s important to me that I continue to earn a living doing the things I treasure so that I authentically embody the belief that work is love made visible.
This summer has been a conundrum of sorts. Usually my yoga schedule is either feast or famine, and this time around, thankfully I’m feasting. I also have a trip to look forward to, but have been apprehensive about giving up a week’s stay-cation in order to hike in the Red Rocks of Sedona. I’ve got a list a mile long of things that need to get done around the house and won’t have the time to do all of it before I head to Arizona next month.
But, instead of fretting about it, last Friday I drew a bubble bath and soaked for a while, contemplating my ongoing propensity to keep moving like a whirling dervish instead of anticipating a wonderful week out west with my friend.
Suddenly an old thought bubbled up to the surface: If I’m not working, who am I?
Too often I’ve identified myself by what I do, not who I am. Recognizing that knee-jerk reaction, I gently said to myself, You’re who you’ve always been.
”Keep finding out,” I whispered to myself. “Find out in Sedona, then find out more when you come back to Toledo. Find out in your garden. In your meditations. In your dreams. Find out in your friendships. In your fears. In your hopes and wishes and unanswered prayers.”
Then I thought about a plaque a friend gave me years ago that hangs over my sink in the kitchen, so that every time I wash the dishes, I can read “The Real To-Do List”. It has nothing to do with getting anything done; rather it has everything to do with enjoying the moment. So this weekend I practiced letting myself become undone, open to whatever I was feeling or thinking or needing. Some of it was familiar. Much of it was a surprise. Yet in slowing down, I was able to let go of the guilt I often feel when I’m not a busy little bee…
And learned to love doing nothing so I could more fully experience everything.