The Call to Retreat
". . . the cycle of being-doing is also the cycle of remembering-forgetting. Like Persephone in the myth of Demeter and Persephone, you blossom, you die, you are reborn again and again. You contact the knowledge of who you are and what you need and then slowly, bit by bit, you forget, eaten up by life again. Then you descend and reconnect with yourself. . . It is an organic, spiraling process, and each time you retreat, you retain another piece of knowledge, courage and purpose, slowly honing your life into what you want." --Jennifer Louden
The other day, I had lunch with a good friend. She is coming out of a hectic several years of work that have forged her identity as a professional and she's looking at the other side of this time, seeing what comes next.
She was complaining to me about how little energy she feels, how little interest she can dredge up for her day-to-day work life. She is used to being charged up, accomplishing things on a regular basis. Now, it's hard for her to care, let alone actually move in a particular direction.
She's not the only person I've talked to recently who is battling these feelings about their work. They go through the motions, but it's more than the heat that's keeping them down. They are trying to force themselves to stay in the "doing" cycle of life, when it's clearly time for them to spend some time just "being."
We spend most of our work lives focused on the activity. What's our "action plan?" How crazed are we? It's a badge of honor to be active and busy. It proves that we're productive members of society. We feel good when we're accomplishing things. It assures us of our place in the world and that we are needed.
But that "doing" part of the cycle can only be sustained for so long. Just as we need sleep each night to rejuvenate for the next day, sometimes we need longer periods of silence and solitude to rediscover who we are and where we're going.
The trick, I've found, is in recognizing the call to retreat. When do we know it's time for some rest?
Sometimes we hear the call in the major transitions in our lives--we are approaching a big birthday or we're laid off from a job we loved or our last child is starting kindergarten and we're ready for full-time work again.
But sometimes the call is much quieter. We have to pay close attention to our own emotions, something many of us are not accustomed to doing.
We can hear the call in a sense of restlesness we may feel, where our old work identity doesn't quite fit with our changing values and sense of purpose. It may be in the exhaustion we feel each morning when we have to force ourselves out of bed or in the deja vu of the same problem coming around over and over again. The call can come to us in the car on the long commute home or at 4 a.m., when we wake up anxious, our hearts pounding in our chests because we forgot to send an email.
Regardless of how we receive the call, it's critical that we pay attention to it when it comes. For us to live healthy lives (and healthy work is part of that), we need to heed the call to solitude and deep inner work and reflection. Just as fields need to lay fallow in the winter in order to be ready for spring, we too need longer periods of rest and inner work at certain times in our lives.
I believe very strongly in the power of retreats and in honoring the call to periodic introspection and inner work as a way to build our career resilience. Next week I'll be announcing two upcoming virtual retreats I plan to run in September and October, so if you're starting to hear the call to retreat, stay tuned for those announcements!
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