Yesterday was a beautiful day, though a bit chilly for mid-June. The sky a clear and vast expanse of blue, the light breeze making the leaves whisper to us, and the trails through the woods dry with crunchy pine needles underfoot. I hiked with some of my favourite companions. Our two dogs, my husband, and our eldest daughter and her boyfriend.
Yet, as is so often the case these days, I felt restless. The sense that I couldn’t stay in the moment, enjoy the present and its gifts. I was being nagged by a voice and energy . . . then what? When this hike is over then what will I do? We could have lunch and then what will I do? I could garden and then what will I do? It seems like a long time until dinner. Maybe I’ll have a rest.
How is it possible to have a surge of restless energy and at the same time feel so tired that the notion of a nap compels me to want to lie down under a blanket? What is getting in the way of the natural ebb and flow of energy and relaxation? Of being able to enjoy and stay in a moment that is blessed with nature and people I adore? What is this simmer of discontent and angst about? This is a strain of anxiety that is unfamiliar to me. It is not related to a single or sudden event. I can not say that on that day, at that moment I felt my heart start to race and the dull beating in my ears that are my typical markers of anxiety.
The early COVID cocoon of safety in the countryside now feels porous and inadequate. The constant availability of updates on the pandemic cases and deaths, of government-mandated restrictions and freedoms, of citizens at war with each other, is impossible to ignore. Sitting in the midst of abundance and postcard beauty nothing is certain. I feel a sense of personal inadequacy and undeserved privilege. I need to “do something!”.
So in my energy overdrive this morning I attend a gentle and relaxing yoga class, as if :). Driving to the class, paying no attention to the speed limit or the route, despite the fresh speeding ticket on the dashboard, I arrive in the right spot with enough time to breath and wind down, as if :). I decide along the way to become a volunteer salesperson at one of my favourite women’s clothing stores. As is true of most small businesses, the owner is struggling and overworked. I can help. And I think I’ll hire the yoga instructor and host outdoor classes for my friends. And I “should” have people over for dinner, one couple at a time. I’ll do a Martha Stewart inspired outdoor dinner, just like in the latest entertaining magazines that seem to have been produced before we lost our social freedom. In fact, maybe I can squeeze one in this evening after late-day golf. You see, I want to mobilize out of my discomfort, as usual.
At least, that has been my experience.
And it doesn’t work. I only postpone my discomfort. Or I replace it with the stress of doing too much, living up to impossible standards, keeping too busy to feel. I am not letting the challenge of the chaos of our world, mixed with the beauty and blessings of daily moments, teach me resilience and acceptance. I am avoiding engagement by doing, rather than being and feeling.
This cycle of anxiety, busyness, exhaustion, and “then what” has never worked for me. It has chronically robbed me of consciousness. It has repeatedly driven me to unhealthy behaviours. The pandemic has forced a slowdown in my life. Instead of filling the newfound space with activity, perhaps the lesson is in its emptiness.
“there’s more to liberation than trying to avoid discomfort, more to lasting happiness than pursuing temporary pleasures, temporary relief.”― Pema Chödrön, Living Beautifully: with Uncertainty and Change
And so for this afternoon, and maybe tomorrow, I will be present and ponder Pema’s words.