The past 27 years of my life consisted of the following events: graduate school, graduate college, graduate grad school; apply to college, apply to grad school, apply for jobs; interview for jobs, work a job, find a second job, find a third job; go to dance practice, go to dance performances, coach the dance team; start a blog, write a book, edit book, advertise blog, publish book; find friends, hang out with friends, solve conflicts with friends (but, your lives are like this as well). Then, it all kind of ended. I graduated school, quit coaching, went to a job that I didn’t need to work three or four others, made some great friends, solved some family conflicts.
A few months ago, I attended a yoga retreat in which we did one of those “be silent and don’t talk to anyone for an hour”.
In the past, to maximize my time and accommodate for my very busy schedule, this hour of “quiet” would have consisted of me ruminating on my thesis for a grad school paper, moving through dance formations in my head, scheduling out which novels I wanted to teach, figuring out how I would approach my family about that conflict, making a list of all the appointments and oil changes I needed to do when I arrived home from the “retreat”.
But, since having eliminated a majority of those “to do” lists from my life, as I sat in the hour of silence, I had nothing to think about, nothing to figure out, nothing to ruminate on. For once in 27 years, my mind could be quiet.
To be quite honest, I’ve been trying really hard to reject this state of peace, and trying really hard to find ways to fill it back up with chaos, conflict, busyness, and ultimately, validation–that if I am not busy, and I am not constantly doing something, then I don’t matter. I’ve tried to make up projects to do, find seminars and classes I could take, I’ve even search out third and fourth jobs that I could potentially do so that I could be back in that crazy, chaotic schedule (the one where I don’t even have time to eat because I’m constantly running from one emergency to another). Like so many of us, I feel this impending time limit on my life–that there are so many places to go, so many things to do, so many people to meet, that if I am not utilizing my time and multitasking constantly, then I am going to miss out on something, and I’ll have wasted my life–that busyness means importance, fulfillment, and no regrets later on.
It wasn’t until I sat in Christmas Eve service that I realized what I’d been experiencing–this strange phenomenon of my mind not needing to wander anywhere else–is peace.
Before I move on, I must say that I am happy. Nothing about this new life situation is miserable. I know this, because when I have a bad day, I can still name many moments during my day that were enjoyable. My ego takes less hits from other people’s criticism (I still like myself, even if there are times I question myself). I don’t feel the need to constantly be calling up my friends and family to “talk through” a crisis I’m experiencing. My life has finally settled down. But, I think the nature of being human is the conflict of simultaneously being happy, but also still experiencing struggle.
For me, taking a year off coaching has come with some severe cognitive dissonance. I’ve often had to talk myself out of the notion “You aren’t doing enough” to remind myself that I have, in fact, done enough, and I did enough for five years. I’ve had to remind myself that taking one year out of the “structure of the coaching life” will not ruin me, that it could come up again in another chapter, or something better will come along (and that it is perfectly fine to allow myself 8 hours of sleep a night). We get so set in routines, and we think that, this is the routine I must maintain for the rest of my life. But, here is what I have since realized: life happens in chapters–we feel this need to ALWAYS be on the same schedule, that we forget our life stages change, our circumstances change, and likely, we will never be doing the same thing our whole lives.
There are some times that I miss the tumultuousness that my life existed in for so long. Sometimes, I do miss post-break up Britany, because, while emotionally exhausting, learning new things about myself was enriching and exciting. Sometimes, I do miss the time in my life that I juggled dance, school, and grad school–some of my BEST insights came out of that chaotic mix. Sometimes I do miss the challenge of coordinating my schedule and my outfits for each event–because it proved just how robust I could be.
But, this end of the tunnel is great as well. I’ve been able to devote more quality time and attention to my significant other and family, and have been able to support them in their endeavors. My energy levels are higher, and I can actually be present in my job. I’ve checked novelty items off my bucket list that I never had time for before (sing in church choir, ski the Alps, yoga teacher training). And, I actually have time to eat (and not just grab the jar of peanut butter and a bag of pretzels for lunch whilst running out the door). I’ve suffered less illness, less headaches.
I think Brene Brown sums it up when she says we must learn how to exist at both ends of the spectrum–that truly living is knowing how to trudge through the muck, but also how to enjoy the moments of stillness and gratitude. Because, those quiet, peaceful moments are the rewards we offer ourselves for existing in the chaos. We don’t need to always be in a constant state of struggle–we are also afforded this great state of peace.
Someday, my life will be chaotic again. My schedule will fill up again, my sleeping time decreased, my mind on constant rumination. I will find three other activities to over commit to. The conflicts will arise again, and I will need my tribe to help me settle the dust. But for right now, I’m trying to master this state of peace.