A proverb teaches, “A good rest is half the work.” The challenge is to find the right balance between work that exhausts and then dropping it all to recoup and rest and restore one’s creative soul. Over the last two and a half weeks I have been laboring mightily on drafting chapter six of my book titled, “‘Take Me Home, Country Road’: The Comfort of the Familiar.” It’s basically about dealing with the losses of our lives and making meaningful sense in response to such loss as we weave and re-weave the story of our lives in the process. Anyway, the labor is over for now and tomorrow I’m headed to the mountains outside of Charlottesville, Virginia, to hike and enjoy condo life at Wintergreen Resort for a few days.
Which brings me to a new book I’m reading by Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun and prolific writer and speaker on spiritual topics. Many years ago, my husband and I were at Chatauqua Institute in New York State, and Chittister was one of the featured speakers at the morning chapel services held daily. The title of her new writing is Between the Dark and the Daylight: Embracing the Contradictions of Life. The book caught my eye when I was in a local bookstore a couple of weeks ago, and I bought it because the title sounded like something I could use as a potential resource for my chapter.
Because of juggling book writing under deadline and doing everything else that needs to be done – and to be honest, being stressed in part due to self-imposed deadlines, as well as meeting various and sundry responsibilities in my life – I zeroed in on her essay titled, “The Energy that Comes from Exhaustion.” In it, she talks about the choice between living in sameness and boredom versus living with stress, going full-bore into life’s challenges. She does distinguish between unending stress and exhaustion that can wear out the human system, and “good stress” that stretches us and gives us creative life.
Not surprisingly, I suppose, Chittister chooses living the latter, good stressful life to exhaustion. She says “it is the sheer joy of knowing that we gave back to life everything we were given when we came into it. It is the stamp of authenticity. It is spiritual fair trade.” Again, she does emphasize the need to work to exhaustion for something worthwhile, to choose our stressors carefully. She says “the good ones enliven us and give life to those around us. The bad ones give nothing to anyone, ourselves least of all.” But better living to the exhausted hilt for some purpose that gives life meaning to self and others, rather than living a dull, safe, calm life that is basically purposeless – without “passion, without commitment, without the investment of the whole self.”
So apparently I also have chosen exhaustion, because that is my condition at the moment. I can’t wait to pack my bags and get out of town for a rest. Interestingly, Chittister follows her essay championing exhaustion for a good cause with the essay, “The Productivity of Rest and Recreation.” In this piece, she quotes Leonardo da Vinci who had the following to say:
“Every now and then go away, have a little relaxation, for when you come back to your work your judgment will be surer. Go some distance away because then the work appears smaller and more of it can be taken in at a glance and a lack of harmony and proportion is more readily seen.” Point: the grind is destructive of both the person and the work. Unless the soul can be refreshed enough to think, to create, to recoup both its energy and its interest in the work at hand, there is no hope for either recall or creativity. (p. 73)
So the message is balance. Finding that right balance between work that exhausts and then dropping it all to recoup and rest and restore one’s creative soul. This has always been a challenge for me and I’m working on it! In the meantime, I’m going off to take several hikes, enjoy some good food and a bit of lovely vino, and just enjoy the mountains this time of year. As Chittister says, a proverb teaches, “A good rest is half the work.” So maybe you might also choose to close the computer down, turn off the cell, and reclaim your life a little so you can return to productive “exhaustion” in the time ahead.