This is the third week of a six week series designed to help you ask deep, enriching questions that lead you to become more and more whole, more and more who you actually are in the world, and more and more comfortable in your own skin.
Each week, we’ll swim in the mystery of a unique question, designed to help you see your actual life with more clarity. Each of these questions are taken from Paula D’Arcy’s work, particularly Gift of the Red Bird: The Story of a Divine Encounter and Waking Up to This Day: Seeing the Beauty Right Before Us. Paula D’Arcy’s hard won wisdom has helped me immensely. The six questions are:
- Which lesson is life bringing me?
- Am I burying my pain?
- Am I overtaxing my body?
- What did I pay attention to today, and is that focus fruitful?
- Am I creating a life that is nourishing, or one that undermines me?
- Am I secretly clinging to something that distracts me or weighs me down?
You can read the previous weeks’ posts here. Let’s dive in the third question: Am I overtaxing my body?
Do a quick scan of your body right now. Does your head hurt? Do your shoulders feel tight? What aches? What feels out of alignment? What hurts? To what degree are you energized, versus fatigued?
When I paused from my writing to scan my body, here’s what I noticed: my head hurts, just behind the eyes. My neck and shoulders are painfully tight, as if someone is pulling me upwards from my trapezoid muscles. When I take a deep breath, my low back is sore (no doubt from the overzealous wrestling with my boys two nights ago). My legs are sore from my run yesterday. I got 7 hours and 45 minutes of sleep last night, but it wasn’t good sleep.
Take a deep breath. Does if feel free and unrestricted, or do you wish you could inhale more deeply? Do you feel like you get sick too often? How much sleep have you gotten in the past 10 days? Have you slept eight hours or more at least half of those days? If not, why not?
We treat our bodies harshly, brows furrowed as we glance at our reflections in the mirror. We starve our bodies and then we overindulge. We demand that our bodies keep producing without enough sleep, or water. Some of us punish our bodies with exercise, and too much of it. We cannot sit still. We pull out our phones to distract us from simply resting, breathing, stopping.
So, here’s what I want to say: STOP. Stop treating your body as if it were a burden that you have to drag behind you in your pursuit of whatever it is you are pursuing. STOP pretending you can get by with the amount of sleep that you’re currently getting. STOP working without breaks. STOP multitasking.
Start scheduling your nights so that you turn out the lights eight hours before your alarm is scheduled to ring. Start filling up that water bottle. Start scheduling small periods of time during the day where you care for your body: by stretching, breathing, taking a short nap. Start treating your body as if it was a renewable energy source that needs to be replenished regularly. It is.
I can hear the critics, smirking, and saying, “Must be nice, to be able to carve out time for all of that.” Well, if that’s you, then keep hustling. Keep dragging your body behind you. At some point, it will demand that you care for it.
Wayne Muller writes this in his fabulous book, Sabbath:
If we do not allow for a rhythm of rest in our overly busy lives, illness becomes our Sabbath – our pneumonia, our cancer, our heart attack, our accidents create Sabbath for us.
Most of us treat our bodies as if they were disconnected from our minds, our hearts, and our spirits, but they aren’t. Our bodies are constantly telling us what our minds and hearts are too busy to hear. During one season in my life, I noticed that I was walking really fast, even at work. There was a large gathering place that separated the two main office areas, and I went back and forth across that space many times a day. By walking fast, I was communicating many things: I’m too busy to talk. I’m important because I’m needed somewhere now. I’m busy, which means I’m valuable. So I decided to simply start walking slower. It felt revolutionary, this little act of sedition against our busy-is-commendable culture. I smiled when I passed people. I stopped to talk sometimes. And I was happier.
One of the best books I’ve ever read on this subject is The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal, by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz. The authors outline four supportive areas of habits/skills that we need to master in order to maximize our energy: Physical (sleep, exercise, diet, hydration), Emotional (patience, openness, trust, enjoyment), Mental (visualization, positive self-talk, positive attitude, mental preparation), and Spiritual (honesty, integrity, courage, and persistence).
The very first thing that is called holy in the Bible is Sabbath, which simply means to stop. Stopping is holy stuff. So where are you overtaxing your body, and what is one step towards stopping that you can take? Maybe it’s simply two ten minute breaks during the day. Maybe it’s deciding not to check your phone after 8:00pm. Maybe it’s deciding to attempt eight hours of sleep every night. Maybe it’s carrying a book around with you and reading small chunks during work breaks for enjoyment.
Some Christians eschew this kind of stuff as fluffy self help. Ha. Well, maybe it is. But I’d rather love and serve God with more energy, honoring the one (limited) body that God gave me, and trusting that it needs help, and care.
In it together, my friends.