I woke up one morning a couple of weeks ago, thinking it was going to be one of my usual, routine days.
Coffee and hot lemon water. Journaling. Meditating. Exercise. And, some sort of productivity.
But, as I sat in bed meditating, I noticed that my breath was so shallow it felt like I wasn’t breathing at all. My chest felt tight, and my arms were rigid. Stiff. My whole body was tense.
And, I knew that I needed a break. I needed a day to do nothing. I had to allow myself to take it easy.
I’m really good at putting pressure on myself, and less good at softening around it. I generally know what I’m feeling while I’m feeling it, but I still find that I have difficulties yielding, when my feelings contradict the thoughts in my mind.
I think that’s why I write about this stuff so much—our need to learn to be easy and gentle with ourselves. It’s because I’m so familiar with the inclination to judge, and push, and force. I still find myself enticed by the seductive allure of self-judgment and self-condemnation—the self-critical thoughts tempting me to devolve into a tirade of every reason why I’m simply not enough.
So many of us are like this, and it makes me sad. We’re so hard on ourselves. We expect so much. And, it’s not that these expectations are always a bad thing. Of course, having goals, and working toward them, helps to get us to where we want to be. But, too often we do all of it at the expense of…well, ourselves.
We ignore how we really feel, and what we really need, because it doesn’t mesh with our ideas of what has to be done.
While, I’m obviously not above it, or entirely beyond it, with each day, I get better at surrendering.
It’s still not easy, and it still takes conscious effort.
Sometimes it feels like there’s a battle in my mind—the thoughts of wanting to ease into the moment warring with the beliefs that I should be able to will myself through whatever difficult moment I’m experiencing.
Each side rationalizing its reasons. Making a case for its position.
I don’t know why it has to be so hard for us to simply slow down when we feel the inner desire to rest. Why it always has to feel like this constant clash.
The other day, despite my discomfort in releasing my plans, that’s exactly what I did.
Around noon, I went for a walk in the woods. It’s something I’d been wanting to do for a while, but couldn’t figure out when, or how.
At some point during my trek among the trees, I stopped.
I realized that it was silent. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d heard such quiet.
As I sat on a rock, looking at the world around me, I realized I needed this moment. Something in my soul softened within the space of the stillness.
We’re so used to going so hard all the time—for the things that we want, and, curiously, often for the things that we don’t want too.
Our society idolizes productivity, and the idea that we can push to make things happen is so pervasive, that it almost feels like the obvious, instinctual way of operating. Of course, we think, we should always be capable of more.
We don’t know how to slow down, because we’re so unused to being tender with ourselves. The concept feels foreign. Unnatural. Unfamiliar.
We are, however, familiar with the discomfort of fatigue. That energy—the tiredness and frustration— is something we’ve grown accustomed to experiencing. So, even though it doesn’t feel good, we’re used to how that feels.
Which is probably why we relentlessly push forward, even when we know that what we truly need is to step back.
Intuitively, we understand when we need rest. We can sense it.
We just choose not to listen.
But, we need to learn how to listen, because, there’s power and opportunity within that inclination.
Learning to surrender isn’t easy, but it’s something we can practice.
We just have to be able to let ourselves feel what we’re feeling. We have to be able to admit to the moments when we feel tired, weak, exhausted, or burned out—because, when we can acknowledge it, and admit it to ourselves, we can choose how we want to react to it.
We can choose to listen to the impulse to soften, even when it feels wildly inefficient.
When I woke up the morning after my day of rest, I felt light.
All of the things I wanted to do felt easy and effortless. And I wondered (not for the first time), why my mind still battles with the urge to slow down. Because, I know how well it works. How satisfying it feels.
But, I think it’s all just a part of the process. The practice.
We’re all just continuously learning—discovering new ways to live our lives more fully and easily.
And, here’s the thing.
I might continue to have difficulties with slowing down. And, that’s okay.
I might still hear the self-critical voice. I might still have to watch the battle.
But, throughout it all, I can also still know, which side I’m ultimately going to let win.