Compass Living

Are you a whole person?

I’ve been feeling tired a lot lately. Not just I-didn’t-get-enough-sleep kind of tired. The kind of tired that sets in the moment you wake up and see another sunrise–knowing it’s another day of the hamster wheel, running as fast as you can before you drop.

It’s called burnout. This kind of tiredness dulls my mind, numbs my creativity, and makes me feel excited about nothing. It feels like growing old before my time.

Why? I’m young and healthy; I’ve got a family who loves me and some great friends. I’m doing work I’m passionate about. Furthermore, I know God loves me–I have purpose and significance in that. But I’m still tired.

A tough conversation with my ever-wise friend Audry shed some light on the matter. (She also just posted a great blog about fighting off creative distractions here.) Whether your work is knitting, writing, painting, composing, or delivering sermons, you know that being creative takes a great deal of mental energy. It’s a God-like endeavor: creating ex nihilo, allowing us to be little singers of the Song of God.

But it’s draining.

And more than that–it’s crookedly draining. Creating involves a lot of sitting around and thinking, squeezing those little gray cells to imagine things that no one has ever seen before. Sometimes to put in those long stretches of intellectual labor on our Works In Progress, we shut everything else out.

But we humans are like four-pointed compasses. Rene Descartes only had part of the picture when he said, “I think, therefore I am.” Thinking is part of our being, but we’re also more. Being human means we’re not only brains, but also feelings, bodies, and souls. And if we only exercise our brains, we start to wear down all on one side like lopsided erasers, while simultaneously feeling unfulfilled in those other parts of being.

Maybe this was why I was tired. So this week I set out to experiment with my routine. I decided to give myself permission to stretch and exert the other three points of my compass, in hopes of restoring my mental freshness and creative vitality–and enjoying my life.

There are some things you know by studying about them. And there are other things you know only by doing them. One of these things is physical exertion. No amount of doctor-talk about the health benefits of exercise can describe how flushed and vital you feel after coming home from a 30-minute traipse in sprinkling rain, your head full of ideas and your blood pumping to write. Better still–a hike in the hills, overwhelmed with the beauty of emerald grass and shifting sunlight, brilliant poppies and clouds traveling overhead.

Another such thing of such indescribable value is time with people, and with God. E-mails and Facebook simply are not a substitute for time with friends, family, and the Holy One. You’ve got to have face-to-face time, quantity time, especially if you spend much of your work time in relatively isolated conditions. I’m a schedule-bent efficiency junkie, but I’m realizing that not taking time to be with people will kill my energy and desire to meet the day–so I’m actually more productive when I spend time with people, away from work. More time than just exchanging “good mornings” in the kitchen. Likewise, hasty prayers are like IOUs with God that stack up–they don’t bring the soul-healing peace of extended times of contemplation and praise.

Trying these things this week has brought the life rushing back into me–joy, energy, creativity, and a desire to live the life I have. It’s easier to be thankful when you take time to notice what’s around you: the beauty of the world in spring, the humor and kindness of the people around you, the way your lungs fill with air and your eyelashes sparkle in the sunlight. It brings back the wholeness of being human–the way life was intended to be.

What do you do in your schedule to nurture wholeness in your life? What are your habits for fostering mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being? 

8 thoughts on “Compass Living

  1. Lovely post, Alina. I like the compass analogy. I’ll have to remember that. I have been feeling the same way lately so I’ve been really pushing myself to get back into exercising as a small first step to regaining some balance. So far it’s been very helpful.

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  2. Thanks for posting this–it’s very timely. I’ve had some great productive writing days recently, but they’ve been unbalanced, too. Today I’m out of sorts and, while I have time, I don’t really want to look at/think about writing at all. I need to restore wholeness in my life–especially in the physical realm (exercise, anyone? Pity the day is cold and miserable–brr!). Part of living a wholesome life is recognizing the root of the imbalance AND having the will to do something about it. Often, I just get tired and cross and just don’t plain want to do the things I know will help–getting out and about, exercising, hanging out with people.

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    1. Isn’t that always true? The things that will help us most are the ones we least feel like doing. It’s such a destructive cycle. Sometimes I bribe myself with incentives, like “just go for that run, and you know a hot shower will be waiting for you on the other end!” Once you break through that ceiling, it seems to be easier–you sort of teach your brain to look forward to doing those healthy things. Good luck! Try an indoor workout if it’s cold outside!

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  3. So true. The body will let us know when we have been pushing ourselves past the point which is healthy. We either listen, and do the things that get us back and keep us in balance or wait until we get sick.

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  4. Wonderful post Alina – and the first one I read after shutting myself away from the whole “social” thing for a week or so. I thought I was doing that because I simply had to “get stuff done” which is true, and there’s still more on my “must finish” list. But you have featured the idea of deliberately nurturing the self as a positive experience, not just the taking away of an activity – a negative approach. Thank you, it was truly timely.

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