This week I've been getting up close and personal with my humanity. More than usual, I mean.
I knew this Fall would be really challenging; there was going to be a predictable, limited period of very time-demanding work, lasting about 4 weeks. I chose this, I planned for it, I was ready to support my well-being and balance for the duration.
Then a lot of unexpected stuff happened. (I know this never happens to you.) An urgent, seemingly not-too-time-consuming request too alive for me to decline (add 1 week); technical problems outside my control (add 3 weeks); an important technical mistake of my own, combined with a service provider's technical glitch (add 2 weeks); the death of a dearly beloved animal companion (add 5 days, plus 10 filled with tiredness and the absentmindedness of grieving).
I'm 10 weeks in and I've been utterly exhausted since week 6, when Henry died.
Since then, predictably, old untended pain has been leaking out, announcing itself with my diminished empathic capacity (I'm grateful that I've designed virtually all my work to unfold in leaderful, resonant community, where there's room for me to be genuinely human, too); increased impatience, frustration, and annoyance; and one moment of reactivity with a cherished friend that has stopped my life in its tracks.
I wonder why it is, that when I'm overworked it's only when my lack of care for myself seriously impacts another, that my own well-being finally becomes gravely important to me?
Under normal circumstances, that moment of reactivity would never have happened. But that's the point. I said "yes" to all the circumstances that made that moment of reactivity possible. (Even with the technical problems and my budget limitations, I could have asked someone for help with the technical problems, instead of tackling them myself.)
I am the captain of this ship, and I sailed this ship into what turned into a hurricane. No, I didn't know a hurricane was coming when I set sail. But once the gale winds rose, I could have turned back at any time. I could have said, "I know I said I would do X, but AB and C have arisen, outside my control or responsibility, and I am only able to do PQR and still maintain my well-being. My well-being is nonnegotiable. What can we do so that you get what you need, without it being at the cost of my well-being?"
That is what I should have said.
I did say it a couple times, around certain pieces, around weeks 4 and 6. But then my old "I said I would do X and I can't ask for any more dispensations" way of treating myself like an object or a slave kicked in (otherwise known as "workaholism." The most celebrated form of abuse in our culture. And in my opinion it is abuse; we know it by its fruits.)
A friendship might be the price I paid for treating myself this way, for believing the "should's" and "must-do's" were more important than my own well-being. We did a beautiful repair, but my mistake stepped on one of their "broken toes" and that tends to diminish trust on a level that can remain sore even after all that can be done, short of turning back time, has been done.
I'm almost at the end of the demanding period of time. I've renegotiated all my remaining agreements so that others can get what really matters to their well-being and I can begin to live my values again. Including the newest one, claimed just this past year, of caring for my own well-being ... as if it mattered.
Not just because I care so deeply about how my words and actions impact people.
But because this year I finally began to include myself as one of those "people" I care so deeply about.
We all long to be cherished, to be wanted, to be important, to matter. And yet, so many of us are unwilling to cherish, want, value, or matter to ourselves. We are willing to spend our well-being for the sake of pleasing or placating others, getting things done, earning money, being reliable, without considering what it's doing to us.
At what cost?
When I watch what happens when we "do life" this way, and then consider that what we most long for is harmony and flow within and between us, it seems to me that our relaxed, openhearted, available presence, when we are able to embrace and live from our own most deeply held values -- when we can stop ourselves at the beginning of an argument, before we lose our capacity to remember and honor each other's humanity, each other's right to well-being -- is the greatest gift we can give to another, as well as to ourselves.
This holiday season, let my grave mistake remind you of this, and help you avoid making your own life-disconnecting mistakes.
Are the cookies really so important? The decorations? The purchased gifts? The sumptuous table? Are they so important that we would trade our capacity for presence and authentic choice, kind words and respectful consideration, for them?
This holiday season I will be sitting tenderly with my humanity, letting go of self-blame (because that banishment only puts my brain back into alarm, which is the whole problem in the first place), and instead inquiring with fiercely compassionate honesty into what "should's" and "must-do's" I need to question, what awakened self-caring choices I need to make instead -- in this moment, and this moment, and this moment -- to ensure that that moment of reactivity never happens again.
What gift will give you yourself, and those whose lives you affect, this holiday season? What will you spend your attention and life energy to create, that you and others will be grateful for?
It's my hope that my mistake will support both of us in creating deeper blessings for us all.