BY TRACY THEEMES
What do you do, when you don’t know what to do next? I know what my first inclination is: I start moving faster. I fill my days with endless tasks, checking my phone for messages, solving problems that other people can solve on their own, and then complain about how tired I am. I get caught up in the seeming satisfaction of endless action, while bigger, more important decisions or tasks are set aside. It’s like being stuck on a merry-goround. It feels like I am moving but the landscape looks eerily familiar. Am I really getting anywhere? Last week was my birthday. Most people love all the attention, good wishes and cake, but this year I found myself feeling heavy and slightly panicked. All I could think was, Another year older. Another year on the march to the end.
My life was unfolding at an alarming speed and I wasn’t sure which direction to go. Where am I heading? How can I make a worthy contribution to the world? With each day I felt a greater sense of urgency and was more confused. It was time to unplug, to reset and to figure some things out. It was time to get out of this endless spin cycle. So… I signed myself up for 4 days of silence. Yes, total silence. I arrived at the retreat centre frazzled. My shoulders ached and my stomach was tight with knots. I didn’t know if this was the answer but it was worth a try. What if the food is weird? What if my room smells? And, the big question that loomed, what if I don’t feel better after four days? My mind was whirling. I checked in early so I could orient myself while talking was still allowed. I found the kitchen and received directions to the sanctuary. I bounced on the bed—good firm mattress. Check. My bathroom was clean. Check. I walked up and down every hallway of every floor to see the general layout of the place. I wandered around the building to get the lay of the land. All good. After the group gathered to officially initiate our shared silence, I found myself breathing deeper. Just feeling permission to not talk or be responsible for anyone or anything, seemed to open space in my chest.
My first act of silence was to go back to my room and simply sit. I pulled out my journal and began to jot down my thoughts. Nothing profound or deep. Just what was going through my head. And then, what hit me was the overwhelming need to sleep. My eyes struggled to stay open and my body felt like lead. I could not stay awake. I was in bed by 9 p.m. and slept for 10 straight hours. How did I get so tired? I don’t even have young kids anymore! That next morning I woke up feeling wonderful. The day stretched ahead of me, and for the first time in months I felt a trickle of optimism. If just sleeping made me feel so good, maybe this retreat was going to be productive after all. After breakfast I went back to my room to grab my jacket to take a walk. But before I knew it, I was flopped out on the bed and asleep. And it was only 10:30 a.m. Later that afternoon, I took another nap. And, I had my first insight. Exhaustion is insidious. It creeps up day by day; missed sleep and stored stress accumulating, until my body doesn’t even remember what it feels like to be rested. It’s like drinking too much. Exhaustion is a form of inebriation that robs me of discernment; like a toddler that tears around the house when they should be going to bed, or a drunk who thinks they can still drive. Impairment of judgement is the first casualty of exhaustion. I do not want this to continue. I cannot make sound decisions for me or anyone else when I am so tired.
But if I don’t know I’m tired, what can I do?
1. I am making a commitment to do a form of retreat three times per year. Not necessarily silent, but a time away for solitary reflection. Those dates will go into my calendar in the next week. 2. I am going to wake up to being tired. Nothing dramatic. I will be more mindful of my body and how I feel. For instance, I know that having at least one day where I do not have to wake up to an alarm, ensures that I get a better night’s sleep. 3. I’m promising myself sleep “top-ups.” Instead of mindlessly cruising around Facebook or Instagram when I have free time in the day, I will simply ask myself: Would a nap be better than this? I like feeling this good and I want it to continue. I like how my mind functions when I take time to breathe. And I will remember this: before I can move forward with confidence and make important decisions about my money and my life, I need to be rested. And how about you? Do you get enough sleep? How do you check in with yourself?