Rhythm & Respiration

Rhythm & Respiration
Reflecting on nature-based therapy, learning, well-being and value-added life ...

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Milestones and wellbeing

There’s nothing like a school-age kid daydreaming in class to the droning of a teacher, seeing in her dreams sun-drenched beach days, or snow-deep toboggan days, or lazy sleep-in mornings. We learn, from early on to measure our work time with fun time; that the cycle of days includes periods where fortitude means constrained effort toward goals that aren’t necessarily our own, as well as cycles of days where our inner and outer beings are more aligned to the whim and whisper of our own heart-minds. Summer vacation, Christmas holidays, Spring break: don’t they still strike a feeling of bliss in you when you say them? Each one like an island sanctuary beckoning to us during those long school days when the effort of structured learning seemed interminable. They functioned as milestones all along our 12-year journey. “The summer I first went to camp and had a huge fight with my best friend.” “The spring break we went to Disneyland.” “The Christmas we were snowed in and I broke up with my first boyfriend.”  School: our first community journey that culminated 12 years later in that final milestone recorded by family photos of you in a gown with a funny hat.

Our first ‘real’ jobs that paid by the hour or that first pitiful
salary perhaps did not have the length and breadth of those school-year vacations, but they did have a rhythm that marked work and rest, too. Coffee breaks, lunch breaks, birthday celebrations, all helped to create a pattern demarking the periods of time that belonged to another and that belonged to ourselves. Throughout the year, springing up like jewels released only by time, stat holidays and vacation days gleamed on our calendar. Although many of us greedily grasped stat holidays to work and earn double-pay, and vacations days were meager, they still stood as days that were different and distinct from the days making up the weeks that marched on in uniform consistency. Milestones, perhaps smaller than our school year events, rippled the surface on that stream of days giving us a sense of cycle and a turning of seasons.

College-years had their own distinct pattern. Milestones were not only winter and spring breaks and semester or year ends, rather they were midterms and finals and summer jobs and internships and clinicals with specific start and end dates. They were research projects tied into budget funding that began with proposals that included deadlines. And, of course, there was that final graduation week that culminated in more family photos of you in a
gown with yet another funny hat.

Our first career jobs began the process, for many of us, that eroded the healthy, refreshing cycle of milestones as cyclical seasons signifying a beginning and an end. Career jobs demanded that sacrifices be made. If our careers were in an office, coffee breaks and lunches were often taken at desks while work went on with a minor interruption for chewing and swallowing. If our careers were in retail or service industries, coffee breaks and lunches meant quickly attending your own shopping or banking or dashing out to ferry kids. For healthcare providers, breaks were skipped altogether on short-staffed shifts, or became time to catch up on charting, collaborate quickly with colleagues, or, on night shifts, to catch a few Zzz. And not in a relaxing way but a grim “Must sleep as I only have 20 minutes” kind of desperation.  During 12-hour nights that were, likely, about to be stretched into 16-hour shifts, a 20-minute nap became a dead-serious task to be accomplished.

Career jobs, including self-employment, blur the landscape of milestones and as a result these rarely become moments of pause, reflection, change of pace or refreshment. Instead they are seen as tiny islands that can be plundered for extra time to catch up on the many tasks that the river of enterprise continues to demand. Vacations become stolen time that must, somehow, be made up on your return. The frantic efforts to clear tasks away before vacations, knowing the pile of work that will continue to grow when you are away can make any plans for vacation a herculean effort. We say we do it for the family, for the
kids to experience the pause, refreshment, change of pace. But we are exhausted. It is not unusual to witness eager rising stars turn into cynics and energetic care givers burn out and exit their profession.

Milestones are important to well-being. Not simply those event-moments of graduation, big birthdays and anniversaries and christenings. Rather, the rhythm of events that break up our flow of work; that separates for us time-that-belongs-to-others and time where our bodies, minds, hearts can listen, align, become coherent again. Where purpose and personal mission can bubble up once again to provide us with a lifeboat on the relentless river of industry and career. Sometimes we need to stop; more often, we need to re-establish a synergy with nature and ourselves that follow seasonal change, beginnings and endings, fall deluge and spring run-off, times of surge and times of withdrawal. We need cycles with milestones that signal to us that the pause button is on its way as reliable as summer vacation was to us sitting in the February classroom in Grade three.

As many have said, Covid-19 has shown us many things. One powerful moment was that we learned as a nation that it is possible to collectively change our habits very quickly. We can pause as a people, as individuals, as families, and when we do, we experience a rekindling of creative thinking and connection that is tangible. We listen more: to ourselves, each other, the sounds of nature. We empathize more; we innovate better. Covid-19 created—and continues to create—a milestone moment in the 21st Century.

This is not to say that all things survive and become stronger or more successful in a collective pause. Many things fall. Ways of doing business, specific reaches of enterprise, modern methods of industry may fold. Humanity is used to that. Any history text will demonstrate rises and falls of industry and ways of life. In the span of a just a few weeks, for instance, we have seen the rise in delivery services, morphing of restaurant menus, distilleries changing production and gyms, therapists, and educators providing virtual connections.The New, or a return to traditional practices and cycles of doing life may surface and resurface. The rush to garden and plant vegetables,
herbs, flowers, and trees in early spring during our stay at home directives was spectacular, causing my parish secretary to quip, “There’s going to be a ton of zucchini being passed around to neighbors this summer!” Similarly, the artistic creativity of musicians and visual artists has been stunning. The virtual choirs and orchestras have been heart-deep inspiring. Reading and music have returned to many homes across the nations that had forgotten the simple patterns of story and song. So did direct kindness and checking in on neighbors. We learned as a nation to say, 'thank you,' to our essential service workers. Many of us actually witnessed more sunrises and sunsets than we have in years. I mean, literally took time to watch, truly saw
with our beings the cycle of the day. 

Milestones are important for wellbeing. They put a period at the end of an exhaustingly long sentence. They are the sunset of one time period and the sunrise of another. A small seasonal shift in our routine. We are born into a world of cycles and seasons and patterns that realign according to the moon, stars, and magnetic poles. Our bodies wake and sleep and release hormone in circadian rhythm. We respirate, breathe air in and out, circulate nutrients and oxygen via our internal pump that prefers a lub-dub pattern we call normal sinus rhythm. We need to experience beginnings and endings and cycles and patterns and seasonal shifts. It is in our DNA. We are at our best in the events that stop us and spin us around. When we feel the coherence of need and experience clarity of action. Sometimes it takes a disaster to remind us of the power of clear intention and heroic action fueled by empowered empathy.  

Take the gift of time given to you by the bump-in-the-road pause. Allow the re-aligning of heart and mind; listen for the bubbling of purpose and personal mission to percolate from your inner core. You may find that a direction you have taken is no longer of importance, or that a new understanding of direction induces a strengthening and simplifying of your pathway. That river may not be quite as relentless as it appeared before to you. Things will fall away, things will straighten and stand tall, things will morph into new realities. Your core will be refined, and you will be stronger.

Honor milestones.

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