Tuesday, August 19, 2014

NEW ESSAY: More Is Not Necessarily Better Anymore

Go Slow
By Judith Cullen
(c) 2014

My body is often wiser than my intellect. My synapses get into a groove, clicking away like little fiends.  Time and tide become invisible. “Oh, I can get this one more thing done.  This won’t take but a couple of minutes.” One little thing piles on another little thing, on and on. The next "thing" you know, hours have passed. They have been incredibly productive hours, no doubt. Working at the computer for a great portion of what I now do, I have experienced this dangerous lapse into the twilight zone of productivity all too frequently. There has been more than one occasion when I sat down with a cup of tea at 9 am and did not come up for air until after 6 pm. The ability to focus is a virtue. This sort of thing, however, is the dark side of focus, leading to untold frigid cups of coffee and tea. Where is Rod Serling when you need him?

Luckily, the body is as patient as it is wise. A couple of times a year, after piles of use-abuse have reached heights unachieved even by my laundry, the body says “enough.” It doesn’t care how it stops me, it just does. It is totally unconcerned about all those things I could be getting done. It decides it is time to slow down for about 48 hours – Starting Now! 

After years of ignorance, believing that I knew best, I have come to respect the wisdom of the body. Looking back I realize that for decades I pushed myself past my body’s tolerance, and kept pushing even when my body had dug in and was trying to drag me to a screeching halt. Things HAD to be done, and I HAD to do them! No ailment or infirmity was going to stop me! No, I would soldier on! I would persevere! Cry God for Harry, England, and my ability to get things done!

I now recognize this was just another urban myth, like the insane notion that multi-tasking is efficient. There is a "point of diminishing returns" in simply working harder and harder.  “Bring Your Germ to Work Day” is not a recognized federal holiday, nor is it a healthy adult practice. These concepts have taken years to seep through my stubborn skull, fighting their way past a strangling standard of responsibility and the guilty belief that no matter how hard I work, I can still work harder. I still see friends and colleagues going through exactly the same thing, and I wish I could make them understand the price they are paying with their lives.

I remember a lingering, martyred pride the time I had a bronchial infection so bad that I had to dictate the instructions for a photo call over the phone two or three words at a time, because I could barely breathe. Now I just look back on that, and so many more similar incidents, and shake my head.  Breaking you body just to “get ahead” in the world is a certain recipe for dying before you have a chance to enjoy what you’ve achieved. This is one of those life lessons that you never believe when someone else tries to tell it to you. The revelation must come from within.

I sense it when it comes now – my body saying “enough.” Working as an independent artist and contractor, it can be hard to remember to take time off, even though my life in general is a lot less stressful than when I had a full time job. “Days off” and “Weekends” can blend into working days – there is so much you could be getting done! Every moment not put “to the task” feels like wasted time. Yet my body and my brain both need a little deceleration to function at their best. Much to my chagrin, no one is likely to start that non-profit charity "Vacations for the Working Poor" very soon. My body is wise enough to remind me it is time to disengage for a while, and I have learned to listen when it speaks.

It is usually nothing big, unless of course I ignore it as I have in the past. I’ll wake up and everything will ache, but nothing will be swollen. I’ll try the usual perk ups, and they won’t work.  This happened just the other day.  The longer I was up, the worse I felt: ears ringing, stomach upset, and brain unable to focus.  It took me three hours before I surrendered and went back to bed. The rest of the day was spent snoozing, sipping endless pots of tea, and reading an entire 300 page Highland Romance that I have had since the 1980s – a book I didn’t have to read, I’d read it dozens of times. Slowly, my body realized I was taking its message seriously, and by 5 pm I felt up to a bowl of soup and some toast.  More tea, more Highland high-jinks, a good night’s sleep and I felt refreshed the next morning, though I still took things a bit slower that day.

My body is wise.  It understands that I have issues with relaxing, that I feel guilty just “goofing around.”  It is compassionate, to a certain point.  It accepts me with all my flaws.  It realizes that my intellect has been tardy in catching on, but that when the wise old body tosses up the “Slow Down – Proceed with Caution” sign, the rest of me has learned to listen before we hit the dangerous curves.

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