Yesterday I harvested this butternut squash from my garden before going to my local supermarket to buy chorizo and red pepper.
My plan was to make risotto for supper and to enjoy my “free” butternut squash (the truth is, I grew the plant from the seeds of a squash I bought a few months back) but somehow, by the time I got to the checkout, I knew I wasn’t going to make risotto. Instead, I consigned my prize crop (in my mind at least) to the fridge for another day and ate soup.
Stretching the elastic to breaking point
Five weeks ago, my friend Sarah went to hospital and I went with her. I went with her once. I went with her twice. I went with her a third time. Finally, she was admitted. That first week, I made it my priority to support her at a time of crisis knowing that, with her family living several hours away, I was the person who was best placed to help her. Once she was admitted, I continued to make a priority of visiting her.
I visited Sarah because I wanted to support her and without knowing how long she would be in hospital. It was a high priority for me and, at the same time, I knew I was stretching the elastic about as far as it would stretch and still ping back. I kept up a regime of visiting most days until Sarah moved on Monday to receive specialist treatment some distance away…
…and I confess, that once she’d moved to get the treatment she really needed, I discovered just how exhausted I was.
Have you ever felt totally exhausted at the end of a project, or after handling a crisis, or simply, because you just are? The minute your project, or crisis, is over you look at the spaces opening up in your diary and think of all the things you’ve been putting on hold. Now you can catch up!
Somehow, though, when the time comes, your body refuses to cooperate. At least, you could push through (isn’t that what you’ve been doing so successfully for the last few weeks, months or even years?) but only if you ignore the signals that your body is giving you… signals that are getting louder and louder and louder…
There is an alternative to “pushing through”
Janice Chapman, the distinguished Australian-born soprano and voice coach, teaches a method of breathing she calls “splat”. The essence of the method is this: before you take in a new breath, you need to release what remains of the breath you have just taken. When I learnt this method, it seemed rather counter-intuitive – isn’t it more efficient to top up the breath before singing again?
Topping up the breath is a good metaphor for what we do when we push through, ignoring the body’s signals to rest before getting stuck into whatever comes next. Releasing the breath allows us to fill up our lungs with oxygen, rather than seeking to extract the last bit of oxygen from our depleted lungs.
The same principle applies when we take a rest – be it a day or a week or even a “power nap” before we continue. If we don’t rest and instead push through, we’re into the law of diminishing returns. For the want of rest, we risk taking our elastic to the point at which it won’t ping back. We start the next thing exhausted.
We need to remember this for ourselves. We need to remember it for those we lead.
Taking a moment to check in
If you’ve read this far you may be wondering, “how should I respond to this posting?” My message to you is…
Breathe. Take five minutes just to breathe. Breathe in gently and release the breath, trusting your body’s natural rhythms.
And as you breathe, notice what stage you are at in the various cycles of your life. Where are you resting? Where are you pushing through? What is your body asking of you right now? Notice, in particular, any messages you’re giving yourself about the need to push through… really? Sometimes, it helps to recognise your need for rest and to adjust your schedule, knowing that there will be a time – but it doesn’t always need to be now – for you galvanise your energy and to get stuck in.
Everything’s working perfectly
Yesterday, it wasn’t only that I failed to make the butternut squash and chorizo risotto. In truth, I pretty much took the day off. Yes, I got up with the intention of working. I checked my e-mails. I had my first (and only) appointment. Soon, though, I realised that I had a choice and I decided to rest.
Sarah is in hospital now, and getting the care she needs. I’ll be sharing more of her journey in a future posting, and I’ll be providing support when she comes back to her home nearby. I have work to do in the meantime – lots of work, as it happens. But it didn’t need to be done yesterday.
Yesterday I felt exhausted, torn between the need to rest and the awareness of just how much catching up I need to do. Still, I chose rest and notice how much more energy I have today. The morning has already been productive. I’m looking forward to making risotto. Everything’s working perfectly.