Catching My Breath

Today is a catch-up day. You know, one of those days – usually after a push to meet some sort of deadline – when you do all the important but less urgent stuff you put off while you were attending to more pressing and immediate tasks.

But I’m also thinking about the assumptions behind the idea of a catch-up day. I’m presuming I’m “behind” – but behind what? behind schedule? but what schedule? I’ve designed my schedule to be flexible so it can bend and move with my activities…

I think what I’m feeling and calling a need to “catch-up” is really a feeling of being out of rhythm and a need to restore a regular beat and measure. It’s been a fast and intense coda lately, and it’s now time to return to my familiar refrain.

On my list for the day (in no particular order): empty my email inbox, type up some committee notes, look into travel plans for the fall, buy groceries, vacuum, update my biznik profile, balance the checkbook and pay some bills, plant the tomatoes that are still in the tiny pots they came in… you get the idea. And as jazzed as I am about continuing to develop learning resources, I’m still glad to have a breather. I’ve sensed in the last few days that things are out of balance, and it’s just this sort of low-key activity that restores it. (Maintenance can sometimes feel like a drag, but this is definitely one of its upsides.)

Breather. Interesting choice of words. In/out. Inhale/exhale. Can’t have one without the other. Seems quite natural, doesn’t it? that sort of cycle… So why does the notion of a “catch-up day” carry the negative connotation of things being out of order, out of sync, out of their proper (intended) time and place? What if things are exactly as they should be?

There’s nothing wrong with running hard and then resting to catch your breath. In fact, regularly pushing a bit beyond your limits is what builds strength and stamina. But that cannot be sustained indefinitely – there must be intermittent periods of rest. But neither is it a good idea to never move at all. Obviously, the healthy, sustainable place is somewhere near the middle of the spectrum. The trick is discovering where that place is, what your optimal rhythm of activity and rest is.

I’m fairly pleased with my consistent work in developing and promoting my workshop series. But my energy and interest has flagged in the last few days, and I’ve learned to pay attention to that. I pay attention because that is the moment when I’ve moved from that healthy, sustainable place and need to shift my activities to get back in balance, back in rhythm (and the sooner the better). Right now, I’m listening less to what my head says I should do (keep running), and more to what my heart wants: it wants clean open space, it wants to get outside, it wants to move, it wants to make art, it want to create without words. Rest isn’t necessarily doing nothing; I often find greater restoration in doing something different from what has tired me.

We each have a unique rhythm of work and rest, an individual cycle of activities, that suits us best, that sustains and energizes us. It’s important that we learn what that rhythm/cycle is and take it into account when planning our calendars – otherwise we are just courting burnout.

If you don’t already know, respire, inspire and spirit all come from the same Latin root: spirare to breathe. To be inspired is to be blown upon, to be filled with the breath of the spirit. And it’s very difficult to receive inspiration when you can’t catch your breath. Next time you are feeling winded, ask yourself what will help you to restore the rhythm of your breathing, to balance the exhale with the inhale – and do it.

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Does your schedule allow you room to breathe? If not, learn how to plan a flexible schedule here.

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