Self-fulfilling prophecy or coincidence or proof that I know what I am writing about, I’m on a bit of an involuntary vacation. As I wrote in an earlier post,
“Days off are usually imposed by mental, emotional, or physical exhaustion – during which they aren’t making money, which therefore requires them to work harder.”
I was talking about “them”, my friends who are required to be workaholics to avoid becoming homeless and hungry. It also describes me, as I sit here with a tweaked back, a sore throat, and a recovering headache. I have a few work chores to do, and after that, I’ll be relaxing because I have to. My karate lessons remind me of the advice so many of us hear to stop and enjoy the moment. If we don’t, the world will make us stop.
Yesterday, I had a break from my irregular, though packed, work schedule. I’m one of two Site Stewards for a property managed by Whidbey Camano Land Trust: Hammon’s Preserve. It is spring and time to whack the weeds. Blackberries, holly, English Ivy, Scotch Broom, and thistles are claiming the land faster than the indigenous plants can reclaim their territory. That’s the way of invasive plants. We try to repel the invasion.
I waded into a thicket of thorns where the wild roses were fighting the blackberries. Thank you Carhartt and denim for keeping the scratches to a minimum. But the thorn pricks weren’t as painful as some innocuous muscle movement that tweaked my back and changed my posture until I was much shorter and a lot less graceful. I tried walking off the pain, which helped a bit, and then went back to work hoping more careful movement would be more therapeutic than doing nothing and letting the muscles lock up.
My back and I have had such negotiations for 25 years. In one month back in 1988 I fell into a crevasse while climbing Mt. Rainier, was dropped on my head in karate, and became severely dehydrated during a marathon that wasn’t able to supply water for those of us in the back half of the pack. Any of those things, and probably some combination of them, could be the cause. One month, I was flexible enough to sit on the floor, legs straight out in front, and touch my head to the floor. The next month, I was dragging around a sciatica-pained leg, hip, and back. The x-rays showed that something in my lower back collapsed. I’ll spare you the years of research and experimentation that resulted in some fairly effective coping strategies. Effective, not but a panacea, evidently.
An excellent video by a friend gave me useful insight into cause and effect; or as I put it, reason versus excuse; or in another way, culprit versus scapegoat. Blame the blackberries? No. Blame the working conditions? No. Take it as a hint that I should’ve stayed home and worked instead of volunteering? No. Skip the blames and the hints and realize that my body feels pain because my emotions were wrapped tight from too much work and not enough relaxation. With decades of knowing myself, it’s easy to see; but, only in retrospect. Most folks know the soreness from eye strain, or the sore neck from poor posture in front of the computer. I’ve managed to carry those tensions down through my shoulders, into my chest, and beyond. Years ago, my chest pains were so intense that doctors required EKGs and treadmill tests, only to prescribe red wine and liquor. (The longer version of the story is in Walking Thinking Drinking Across Scotland because it inspired the trip.) Lighten up, dude. When everything is so tight, nothing moves right. The slightest upset throws things out of balance, and it can take a long time to recover.
In the first few minutes of Dr. Craig Weiner’s video about EFT , he tells a great tale about hurting his back while gardening. He does a good job of following that management analysis tool of asking Why?, Why?, Why?, Why?, Why?; which is remarkably close to the same technique kids use to exasperate their parents. Maybe five-year-olds have things to teach upper level managers. And yes, after this post is published I’ll watch the rest of the video again. His description of EFT is good. Others have suggested it, and I admit it is more effective than I expected.
I wound my emotions up because I had good news. I understand if you think that’s a silly reaction. The good news was that I got a 10 hour per week job as Information Manager of New Road Map Foundation. The emotional turmoil arose when I began understanding what a difference it would make. I have many Dammed Plans that I look forward to releasing, but the money from a quarter-time job, while greatly appreciated, only meant I delay selling my few remaining shares of stock from my dwindled IRA. The plans remained dammed. Enthusiasm thwarted, turned back on itself; which, I turned back into renewed energy for my other projects. (Work on the movie progresses, but the script is being re-written.) But life isn’t that simple. For most folks, until there’s enough, there’s worry.
My emotions were tight. My muscles responded. A slight upset and suddenly I couldn’t do as much as I could before. When I got home I tried to work but the discomfort required me to lay down. The frustration made me give up. And a little while later I realized that my body and my mind had imposed a vacation.
Two events put my workaholic habit into perspective. Another friend who is undergoing a financially required mid-life-redefinition is also working hard at a few jobs while also taking classes (less than a year and a half to go!). Evidently, healthy living wasn’t enough to prevent a heart attack. Last night, there was a house fire in my old neighborhood of downtown Langley. It was the house across the street from my first address on Whidbey. In both cases, everyone survived events that were understandably unexpected. My back’s incentive to relax seems more like an opportunity to sit back (or lay down) and concentrate on and appreciate what I have here and now. As a responsible adult, I have to consider what’s next; but, I think I was just delivered some evidence that I’ve done more than enough of that. I’ve gnawed on that rock long enough.
One of the lessons in karate is, “Tight. No Tight.” Being tight all the time wears a person out. The only way to survive a prolonged struggle is to only be tight when necessary, and to be loose, or “No Tight”, the rest of the time.
I think that’s one reason I no longer watch TV. The media and the ads maintain a tension throughout every moment. There is an urgency to everything, and then the next thing too. We have plenty of work to do, and it must be done, but if that’s all we do we might hurt ourselves in ways that mean we can’t finish. So, I’ve got a few emails accounts to check for timely messages, and a few notices to release, but I’m sitting here with a persistent reminder that today, and maybe tomorrow too, is a time to do a little less now so I can do a lot more later. I declare a vacation.