I get these rushes of energy sometimes, waves of electricity that dance up my arms into my head and get lodged there for awhile, asking me to listen. Usually they’re telling me to do something: to make a new plan, take on a new project. And, in my Type A way of addressing the world, I take out my paper and pen, sometimes my calendar, and I start making lists. And spreadsheets. I fill up the coming weeks with new resolutions.
Often these rushes arrive after I’ve read something. If you’ve been here awhile, you know this about me. After reading Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, I launched one of my own. Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food changed, for awhile, my approach to eating.
My problem is that my resolutions never last long. I embark on these projects with great excitement – I’m going to identify my spiritual masters just like Gretchen did! – and my enthusiasm sustains me for awhile. But then – and there’s always a “then” – one of my kids gets sick or we have house guests or it rains for a week straight. And I abandon my new plan as quickly as I started it.
After my doctor’s appointment last week, I went for a walk by myself. I breathed deeply and felt tears sting my eyes only to be crowded out a moment later by a giant goofy grin. I thought about what the doctor had told me and a wave of euphoric sadness washed over me. On the one hand, I was deeply relieved that my tingling hands were not a sign of something more serious. On the other, I understood for the first time – in a long time? ever? – that the way I have been living isn’t working. That I need to change.
And then I got another one of those rushes. But this one was different. It didn’t buzz around me, asking me to make lists. It didn’t lead me to add things to my calendar. It made me close my laptop and leave my iPhone on the counter all day. It asked me to slow down.
A friend of mine used to have a postcard in his office that said “Proceed as the way opens.” Even though it doesn’t fit with my own tendencies to plan and power my way through any sticky place, I’ve always liked the expression and have even deployed it myself when doling out advice to a friend or a student. I later learned that the expression is Quaker in origin, meaning, according to the New York Yearly Meeting, “to wait for guidance from God; to avoid hasty judgement or action; to wait for future circumstances to help solve a problem.”
I think that’s what I’m doing now. I’m remembering the routines that always make me feel good: running and stretching and sitting still in quiet places. I’m getting cozy with the idea of who I can be when I start breathing again. I’m listening.
Image: Plumeria seedling by Ewen Roberts via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.