I suppose it is a pretty rare person these days who does not feel at least a little overwhelmed from time-to-time by the number of demands on their time. On a personal level, my day-to-day energies are directed towards a great number of activities. My full time involves lots of travel and deadlines, taking courses from two different institutions, volunteering in a couple of different capacities, exercising, and making sure I have enough time and energy to devote to both my family and myself. Sometimes I feel like one of those jugglers who has a dozen or so plates spinning on the end of sticks and must keep them all going. Inevitably, there are times when some of the plates come crashing to the ground.
Overall, I am quite content with the circumstances of my life. I am lucky enough to have a job that I really enjoy, one that challenges me in all the right ways and ensures that I keep learning and growing. Although my husband works every bit as hard as me, and his life is every bit as complicated, his schedule is a lot more flexible. This means that he picks up most of the slack when it comes to cooking and cleaning, and most nights we are able to enjoy supper together as a family. Despite the necessity of multitasking (is there really any way to avoid that these days?), I try to remain cognizant of the fact that I need to devote my attention to whatever task is immediately at hand. I try to make sure that I have at least an hour or so of downtime every day. There are times when I feel scattered and out-of-control, but fortunately those times are relatively few and far between.
One of those times, though, happened quite recently. I was on the tail end of a business trip, traveling by car through northern British Columbia. I was hosting a series of meetings and seminars, as well as trying desperately to keep on track with several important projects and day-to-day things that were happening back at my office. In preparation for the road trip, I had packed some workout gear and determined that I was going to confine myself to eating healthy meals and getting exercise each day. Despite these intentions, though, I found myself being talked into going out for dinner with clients each night. When I got back to the hotel rooms every night, I ended up staying up until the wee hours responding to e-mails, etc. By the second to last day of the trip, I was feeling completely exhausted. And I was missing my family and my home.
On Thursday night, with only two more meetings the next day, I was heading for a hotel that I knew had high-speed Internet access. I was planning on grabbing a bagel from Safeway and spending the evening in front of the computer screen. As I was driving along, though, the ominous black clouds that had been threatening all day finally burst open, and there was a downpour of freezing rain of epic proportions. All the traffic on the road was creeping along, with the windshield wipers of the cars making a futile attempt to keep up with the deluge. At last I saw a sign for the motor inn and pulled in. No way was I about to risk my life on the road any longer.
When I checked-in at the front desk, I discovered that I was the only occupant so far that night. When I went to my room, I found out it was really more of a rustic cabin than an actual motel room. There was a small television set with rabbit ears, but no telephone. To boot, this area was one of those information technology “Bermuda Triangles,” so I had no cell-phone reception. There was absolutely no way for me to get any work done. I couldn’t do any on-line research to prepare myself for the first meeting of the next day, which was to be the most crucial appointment of my trip. To boot, I realized that I had left the novel I had meant to pack (to fill those imaginary free hours I would have on this trip) sitting on the sideboard at home. Great, I thought, what am I going to do now? There was so much to get done and no way to do it. I turned on the television set, to find only snowy interference on every channel.
Looking out the window, I noticed that the freezing rainstorm had turned into just a shower, and I could see a patch of blue sky. My initial thought was to grab my stuff and hit the road again. Suddenly, however, it occurred to me that I had just been presented with something I hadn’t experienced for a very long time. It was only about four-thirty in the afternoon, and I had the rest of the day and evening completely to myself, with no predetermined chores to fill my time, not even so much as a book to read. It was like entering a cloister for a day. It dawned on me that perhaps enforced inactivity was something that should be welcomed, instead of avoided.
The first thing I did was get out my work-out gear and do some yoga stretches. I held each position for a length of time longer than I normally would have. I felt the stretch and pull of each muscle in a leisurely and focused way. By that time, the rain outside had stopped. I went out for a walk along a quiet back road. I felt the faint warmth of the sun as it shone down on me. I paid attention to the smell of the trees. I felt my heart lighten inside me. A great sense of peace descended on me. I no longer felt anxious or worried about work. I knew that I would be home with my family again in a couple of days, and until then, I somehow knew that everything would go well. Or at least everything would go the way it was meant to.
That night, I ate an apple and a pink grapefruit for dinner that I had been carting around with me. I savoured every bite and felt completely full afterwards. Then I had a long hot bath. As I went to sleep that night, I was surrounded by a great silence and stillness.
When I woke up the next morning, I felt totally refreshed and ready for anything. I arrived at my appointment with plenty of time to spare. I listened to some classical music on CBC Two before going in. Everything went extremely well. I was confident and relaxed. It was as though, stepping out of the rush of activity, just for one evening, had recharged my energies and helped realign my soul. When the next such opportunity comes along, I’m sure I won’t fail to recognize it for the blessing that it is.