I was working on this post about self-care when my computer went off. Shut down. Turned off. Out of charge.
I had to laugh. The universe has the most remarkable sense of irony.
It’s several hours later now and, after plugging in the laptop to recharge, I return to tell you about the message in the shut down laptop.
It started when, this morning, I awoke from a dream filled with images of a walk through the woods. As my eyes opened, I felt a deep longing to get out-of-doors and move through the farm and forest across the street from my home.
And yet, I ignored that longing and went, instead, to my computer .
I logged on to the internet. I diddled around on Twitter and Facebook; updated this and that on my blog until the alarm on my iPhone reminded me at 7 am, Workout.
I ignored that alarm and the note that I’d left on the bathroom mirror last night to remind me to start working on a special writing project this morning. I ignored my hunger, my thirst and my need to pee.
And then, about two hours after I’d first logged on, my laptop shut down.
finally, I got the message: Before you write one more tweet, one more FB post, one more word of this story about your retreat, it’s time to do a little recharging of your own.
Last week, when I arrived at the Creative Joy retreat, I was so depleted I could barely speak.
This is not hyperbole. I sat at the Garrison Institute’s welcoming wooden tables, surrounded by beautiful women and found myself, unable to carry on even the simplest conversation. I mean, it looked like I was talking to people, but in a very real way, I wasn’t there.
A strange exhaustion had fallen over me. As if I were underwater, I had trouble hearing the presenters; trouble keeping up in yoga class; trouble seeing the point of taking photographs of flowers – or of anything else.
In the past, I’d have bounced from activity to activity with sheer joy. By the third day, I’d have been greeting people by name – even without their peel-and-stick name tags. But now, all I wanted was to put my head down on my arms and sleep – or, as it would turn out, cry. Given these few precious days of rest, I wasn’t resting, I was dissolving.
At the beginning of each day, Jennifer Louden, our retreat leader would ask: What do you want? a question that seemed to echo all the way into my bones. What did I want? Why had I signed up for this thing?
On the second evening, I was on my way home, in the center of the Bear Mountain Bridge when a huge burst of light exploded over my car. Stunned, I braked; then laughed as another bright splash lit the sky. Fireworks, I realized – a test run for the following week’s holiday show.
I continued on, the colored lights receding in my rearview mirror. But their impact stayed with me. I began to feel better, lighter as if those lights had been a sign – delivered directly and clearly – right over my head: There is more light for you; it’s time to cross the bridge and claim it.
I felt the cloak of exhaustion fall away, replaced by a wave of peace – and a bubbling up of joy that I hadn’t felt in weeks, months, years.
But just moments later, cruising through the night toward home, that joy was met by another up-bubbling: a deep swell of sorrow.
How in the world will I find it?
The next day, at the retreat, I sat by one of the huge windows, overlooking the Hudson River, watching sailboats skim the surface of the water. I was gulping at serenity the way a desert wanderer swallows water. Parched, over-thirsty.
That afternoon, when others went off to snap photos of the beautiful grounds, I poked my iPhone into the hidden interior places of the building: the view through the grid of a screen in a kitchen window; a crate of spoons; the spiderwed-laced corner of a window where I found a dead moth.
I found myself in the mediation room, a soaring space with cathedral ceilings.
No one else was there: just me and a giant golden Buddha at the back of the room.
I sat down before the statue and began to pray: Please help me to understand this emptiness; help me to interpret what is trying to speak to me.
Then, I lay down, closed my eyes and burst into tears. The tears came from nowhere: tears without words, without explanation – just tears and tears rising up the center of my body like fizz in a bottle of shaken soda; and, less than a minute later, just as suddenly, they stopped.
That evening, on the way home, I called my doctor.
I spent the last two days of the retreat on my living room sofa with what looked like a stomach virus or food poisoning. But I knew it was that fizzy bottled up soda pop; something I’d been holding down that was now, quite literally, ‘coming up.’
It would be days before I understood what that something was. Resistance. Days more before I understood what I was resisting: Joy.
- in the work that has been calling to me.
- in the love that bursts through my heart when I visit my father at the nursing home.
- in the compassion (and love) that I feel for my mother’s pain.
- in the hard work I am going to have to do to get this truth that I need to speak out into the world and,
- resistance to what I fear that will happen to me when I do…
It’s not my work that is exhausting me – my work thrills me! It’s resisting my work that knocks the life out of me.
Not fear of failure.
Not fear of success.
Fear of joy (and the flat out immersion that arrives when I do the thing that I love to do). Fear that it will take over my life.
Resistance to joy: resistance to how beautiful my work is, and through my work, how beautiful I can be.
- resistance to simply standing in front of another human being and shining – because telling the truth about who and what I am feels so damned risky.
- resistance to giving up all of this resistance – and the games that I play: pretending to be small, to be lazy, busy, less awake than I am; and getting down to work.
Resistance to getting down to work.
Which is why, when my laptop shut off this morning as I was writing about self-care instead of DOING IT, I laughed.
And then, I stepped away from the laptop. Which was my first step toward real self-care.
I did some yoga. I ate a beautiful breakfast. I talked for more than an hour with my husband about love and family and feelings.
I came to this lovely cafe where I lucked into the little corner table in the window; and with light streaming across the table, I opened my heart to what has been asking – for some time now – to be born through me.