I just finished a five day solo retreat in southern Utah. It was the first time I’ve left my family to be alone (for more than a day) in over a decade. Wait, I did do a one night retreat when I was 7 months pregnant with my second child, does that count? I guess I wasn’t exactly…alone!
Having that much time and space all to myself, with the only responsibility being to attend to my own impulses and desires, I noticed a few things.
First of all, there was some discomfort. Not having done this in a long time (I used to love solo retreats in nature, or for yoga, meditation, hiking, backpacking, and writing, before I was a mother), I knew it would take a minute to figure out how to do this.
I actually had a weird existential inquiry the first night about whether I really existed outside of my family, roles, work, and responsibilities back home. Like, does a tree falling in the forest make a sound if no one is there to hear it? Do I exist if not in constant motion in the service of those around me?
Well, it turns out, I do exist. That got settled, phew.
As a mother, there are so many responsibilities to handle, anticipate, and follow through on. As my kids grow, this is becoming increasingly complex, as each of our lives require a different amount of management and organization, let alone our different needs for nurturing, metabolizing our experiences, and everyone feeling supported in being balanced and content in each of our own way. My world is full with what I hold as a mother, without adding on a job, a home, a marriage, overall health and well being, maintaining solid friendships…
I know you know what I mean.
I don’t know about you, but I am usually going from one activity or responsibility to the next, with little to no space in between. On retreat I had enough breathing room to ask myself: is this how I want it?
Thankfully, I am fully down with the contents of my life: I love my husband and kids, and our relationships with each other. I love my work, where we live, our friends, our community, lifestyle, and feel blessed to have the resources and opportunities we have that serve our health and well being and others in so many ways.
Not much to see there.
But what I did notice that I need to keep evaluating and questioning is the PACE at which I am moving. The pace is something much more pervasive, insidious, and ultimately capable of robbing me of experiencing all the pleasure and resource that is here in my life.
I noticed that I can start to feel overwhelmed, disorganized, behind, confused, and apathetic (sometimes all at once) when I am trying to move at a pace that is not intrinsic to me. It’s like throwing a long distance runner suddenly into sprint races. It just isn’t my way. And then all of my strengths and resources get lost or don’t apply. I’m suffering and just trying to hang.
And I’m not exactly living some fast paced high tech high pressure urban life. I live next to a farm, a few blocks from miles of open space, practice yoga, have no commute, help people create fulfilling relationships for a living, and have time to play with my kids every day. Most nights I go to bed with my husband right after we get the kids down.
It might sound boring to some, but for me, it is just right. And, at times, navigating the outside world can still leave me feeling really spun out and wiped out. Even though I have for the most part stepped out of the mainstream pace of life, I still live in it’s wake. Not only am I not built for the speed, amount, and pace that our culture deems as “normal,” I’m not even built to sense it from an arms’ length away. When I start to override my nervous system—my internal wisdom—in the service of increased production, I really feel the stress of over functioning.
On retreat I had no urges for caffeine (almost unheard of), or having a sweet tooth (definitely unheard of), or any interest in checking social media (what if every night at 6pm all the apps just shut down till 9am the next morning?! I read that somewhere and loved that idea, as clearly, it would help me). What if all those habits are just a few signs that I’m trying to cope with moving at a pace that my nervous system can’t sustain on it’s own?
I remembered recently that my nervous system is here to support me. This of course has always been true. But there has been an old story I’ve carried that my nervous system is pretty sensitive and needs a good amount of fuss and tending to be ok. Of course, nervous systems ARE sensitive, they are sensing everything within and around us, all the time, on every level. But I think the truth is that this world is not set up well for humans, and what humans need to function optimally. It’s more like this world is being set up for… robots?
Ok so maybe the robots are on their way. And sure, maybe I just need more quiet, down time, co-regulation, nature, and movement than others. Or, instead, I have my limits as to how I participate in the status quo, and it’s important that I keep honoring them.
I know I can do this, even as a mother. Mothering does not equal having to disregard what works for my nervous system, despite periods of enormous demand physically, energetically, and emotionally. in fact, mothering has me feeling that it is more important than ever that sooner than later, I figure out how to honor it.
My life is full of endeavors, experiences, and relationships that are important to me, and I wouldn’t change any of it. I believe it is all available to me at my pace, too. I don’t want to change any of the ingredients, I just need to keep letting my intelligent inner rhythm set the pace.