The importance of a time out during a close basketball game, the spring break, a vacation, even just the weekend—all of these are as important as the spaces between the notes in a musical score. Without taking time outs—life can feel like a jumbled mess without focus and clarity. The time we take to step back is as important as the stepping forward.
The need to call a time out in our daily lives is signaled by burnout and boredom and fatigue. Sometimes our bodies remind us that a time out needs to happen, and those who may have felt too busy to take a vacation suddenly find themselves being faced with a mandatory time out for a physical condition that will call its own time out.
Nature tries to help us with periods of darkness and light to stop ceaseless activity—to sleep. The question around daylight savings time is coming into focus as we realize how the complications of turning our clocks forward and back affect our awake and sleep patterns. Making time for more working hours may defeat its own purpose in actually decreasing productivity during our waking hours.
The wisdom of sleep (naps included) is put so beautifully by Shakespeare as “sleep that knits up the raveled sleeve of care.” Our worries and fears and emotional fragility often seem to lessen or even dissolve after a good rest. Being able to let ourselves take our time outs and give in to rest is good medicine for mental and emotional wellness. Where are your “raveled sleeves” that signal a need for a break? How will you address the frenetic pace of life and call a time out? Begin to dream of it!
Have you ever driven in fog so heavy that you had only the white line on the right side of the road to guide you? That happened to me a number of years ago on a country road that did not even offer tail lights from cars in front of me for guidance. I was in it before I knew how bad it was going to be. I thought of turning around to return from where I had come, but there were ditches on both sides of a narrow shoulder, and I couldn’t even judge if it was safe to try and back up. I kept thinking maybe I would drive out of it. It was 9:30 at night. I thought that when my exit came to get on a more traveled road, things would get better. They did not.
In fact, I had to stay on the road as I could not see the exit clearly. I knew eventually this road would lead me to St. Joseph, Missouri, so I stayed the course until eventually I began to see city lights ahead of me and could turn off to find a place to stay for the night.
What helped the most was an unexpected phone call from one of my sons. When I explained to him I could not talk because I was trying to find my way out of fog, he reminded me that if I “took it slow” and kept my eye on the white line of the right side of the road, I would be okay. He stayed on the line with me for many miles.
Right now, life may seem very foggy with Covid still unresolved, uncertain supply chains, and the world on the verge of a major conflict. Gone is the comfort zone when can drive full speed ahead, having some idea of what to expect and when. Now we are in the “following the white line” zone, choosing to believe that growth is happening and avoiding the pitfall of panic. Living in the growth zone requires nerve to keep inching ahead and finding voices of encouragement as we do the next right thing and wait for city lights. Comfort zone, growth zone, panic zone. We have the ability to name it.
Once again I am writing from Chicago. I am looking out from high windows at the Chicago River and beyond that into a misty blue expanse of Lake Michigan. From this vantage point, surrounded by tall skyscrapers, I feel perspective. It has been a Chicago family Christmas in what to me is my second home, and we have treasured the time together like never before. We have all survived illness and the threat of Covid and realize how lucky we are to have this time.
The holidays are often a time for returning home. It is not easy for everyone to do that. Some actually have no original home to return to. Some are by circumstance prevented from physically returning there. Some find themselves being defined as who they were in the past instead of who they have become and cannot find “home” there. For some of us, returning home is a reminder of where we began and how deeply those earliest experiences have shaped our psychological and spiritual landscapes. Much therapy hearkens back to those beginnings, sometimes for correction and understanding and forgiveness.
We all need a “second home” where we can let down and be who we truly are, right now, at this time. The home does not depend on bricks and mortar but in an environment that nurtures us. We may find home in the eyes of family or friends. We may even find that home is wherever we find ourselves, knowing that we are enough. Home is where we start from and also where we go to for perspective and direction.
I have been reading yet another book on anxiety in the wake of so many of us still not over our PTSD-type Covid exposure. That includes experiencing not only anxiety, but depression, short “fuses,” and difficulty in re-engaging with our social lives.
The premise of the new book is that much of anxiety is about going over and over in our minds different scenarios for the things we most fear might happen. The prefrontal cortex part of our brains specializes in problem solving. This can be a most helpful thing; however, when we are getting no new answers, there is the added problem of engaging our fight-flight-freeze mode into a cycle between abiding anxiety and short-term worry.
A helpful thing to ponder is that when we cannot seem to escape the worry loop, perhaps a little research on the situation, gathering more information, may be the next right step. Our gathering of information is only helpful when it comes from reliable sources. And that is the next step—what are the reliable resources these days?
For starters, science. Choosing information that is politically motivated or a maketing scam is more likely to happen on social media or anecdotal comments starting with “they say.” A good indicator of a reliable source is that it rests on data-driven evidence and professionals with a track record that we have come to trust.
More information is also needed for non-Covid worries. Having money worries is often helped by consulting with a banker or an accountant rather than lying awake, imagining the worst. Worries about our health can be helped by finding the courage to take the tests that will give us accurate and timely information. Relationship worries may be understood by consulting a therapist to help in finally talking through problems rather than assuming we fully understand a difficult situation.
Recently, my worries about a new warning message on my car dash could have been erased sooner with a visit to the mechanic who found only a fuse that had burned out! The fears that Covid has awakened in us need to be put in their place rather than becoming our default. We must get all the information we need to guide us to peace of mind.
I will not soon be forgetting this movie—not so much because of the profundity of the movie but because of the circumstances surrounding it. Two of my youngest grandchildren engineered the perfect Sunday afternoon to celebrate my birthday week. I was to be picked up, reminded to have my mask along, and taken to the theatre with seats that recline. The parents were doing the driving and getting our tickets. Our only decision would be picking out the snacks.
They chose Airheads, the most delectable tangy chewy things. I introduced them to one of my “forbidden foods”—Dibs, individual little ice cream bites, perfect for sharing. We had two big bottles of water and paper cups to pour it into. The previews were fun, including clips from “Encanto,” the long awaited animated film coming out on Thanksgiving. In short, it was all divine, really, a joy out of this world with all its problems and fighting, variants of Covid, messed up supply lines, and Black Friday, etc.
The older grandson accepted the praise for having chosen the film, and the younger grandson explained to me that it was about people “accepting things that are different.” Clifford was different—a really humongous dog that only a few people could understand and love despite all the commotion he caused because of his size.
The difference to those who loved him was incidental. So, actually, despite all the laughing, the movie had a profound message.
Many of the most profound truths and secrets to happiness aren’t really that complicated. As the Zen masters discovered, it all begins with being present in the moment, open to whatever that moment offers, and embracing it with gratitude.