We’ve been away quite a long time on a new project assisting in distributing a theatrical release of a feature film, refocusing our work goals, getting a facelift for our website, and managing screenings of Boys and Men Healing throughout the country. Earlier this year, I also completed the production of a documentary for Vertigo Charitable Foundation, Pursuit of Truth, a film about adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse seeking justice.
When I reflect on our work over the last years producing social issue documentaries, and bringing our films into communities, I’m grateful for working alongside amazing leaders and change makers dedicated to creating better lives for individuals and communities. These advocates are doing the hard work on the front lines in the field of sexual abuse and rape prevention, counseling individuals, starting much needed support groups, changing laws to protect children, and speaking out against sexual violence. They are activists, filmmakers, therapists, counselors, and experts in post traumatic stress, passionate about their work in our communities.
Those of us who work for social change, venture into the world with our swords of truth, and shields bearing the name Justice. Yet, effective leaders need time to rest beside still waters. After our virtuous, hard, solid work, including answering hundreds of emails and phone calls, catching plane flights and attending far too many meetings, we need to restore our bodies, minds and souls. By retreating, we rest. Rest can be a transformative power, allowing us to become healing fountains for others.
This reminds me of the words of Trappist Monk and author, Thomas Merton, when he met with the Dalai Lama in India in 1968. The Dalai Lama questioned Merton about what was most fundamental to him as a Christian monastic. He answered, “commitment to total inner transformation of one sort or another – a commitment to become a completely new man.”
The real work for those of us involved in inspiring hope, providing services for those in need of healing, and for those working in social change movements, begins right where we are, within ourselves. Restorative time and self-care is crucial for serving others in the world our communities. Such periods set-apart from the pace of the world are life-giving. By finding quality time and moments for solitude, we open ourselves to the possibilities in everyday life of moments of wonder and playfulness. When we create space in our lives, we concurrently create within ourselves a well of peace which we can dip into at anytime. Resourcefulness, insights, vision, hope, and healing springs from this quiet place within. Yet, we need intentionality in creating set apart time in our lives. We do this by scheduling regular periods of solitude and opportunities for inner renewal–just for ourselves. From self-care we can bloom from the rich soil of inner transformation. We can then pass the baton of inspiration to others. From our quiet, rested places within, we give help to those lost, hurting or in need.
Broken people are of no help to others in need of healing.
That never works. Not in relationships, not in changing the world.
In a lovely little book by Esther Waal, Lost in Wonder, she tells us that although Thomas Merton insisted there is a need for effort, deepening, and transformation, that the project of self-transformation shouldn’t be an attempt to ‘work on myself’, but rather ‘just go for walks, live in peace, let change come quietly and invisibly on the inside.”
This happens when each day, we regularly find time to smell the roses.
Summer is perfect time to take walks on the beach, through our neighborhoods, to putter in the garden, and open ourselves to beauty in our lives we may have missed in our busyness. Whether we take a real vacation, a stay-cation, or simply slow our pace to notice the delightful fluttering of the hummingbird’s wings, or the speed in which the sunflowers grow in the garden, rest is essential for our bodies, minds and souls.
The Latin the word for rest is Quies Quietis, meaning quiet, peace. Let us find quiet moments. When we make regular dates with ourselves to sit in silence, we will more likely make friends with peace.
I have to admit, taking down time isn’t easy for me, or our family. We’re passionate people–about our work, relationships, creating a comfortable, clean home, tending our organic garden, and the most important job, parenting our teenager. During the week we’re answering piled up emails, phone calls, and the many tasks of running a small business, while juggling several projects. On Saturday you’ll find us cleaning, out in the garden planting, weeding, harvesting, cooking, baking, and driving our teenager and his many friends to social events–and picking them up to bring them back home, often late at night. Yes, we’re passionate with all we do. Yet, by Sunday we’re exhausted. As much as possible, we observe the Sabbath day on Sunday, drawing together as a family for a walk, a barbecue, and a family movie night. This separate time from the world tames our over zealous passions, anchoring us for balancing the rest of our week. Author and theologian, Walter Brueggemann says the practice of Sabbath is an act of resistance because we are saying no to “the culture of now.” Sometimes Sundays are like spa days. Other times, when our work and parenting load is heavy, we’re just too burned out from the week to enjoy a needed pause in the week. In fact, any attempt to rest is futile. It feels more like we’re trying to rock a baby having a tantrum to sleep. Finally, by Sunday night, when we do conk out, we wake up finding it’s Monday morning, and then we’re on the treadmill again.
We’ve talked with many people who share our similar feelings of needing rest.
Just how do we stop the cycle of our unrest? After completing a recent and demanding project, with clear intention, I stopped planning any duties other than the essentials of my work and family needs. During any moments of downtime, I allowed my nerves to settle and body unwind. I meditated every morning before starting work, poised to listen for a still quiet voice within to guide me in new ways. During times when I notice our family getting too busy, before a frenetic pace causes one of us to melt down, we call a family meeting to re-evaluate. Often, we realize our gluttony — that we filled our plate so full with passions, social agendas and lists, that we forgot about our bodies, hearts and souls. We then take a layer off the piled up plate. We decide to take a walk on the beach instead of cleaning the rug on the weekend, knowing the spots on the rug are less important than our sanity and balance. With less on our plates, we are happier, more present and less short-tempered. The family gets realigned. I’ve now make it a practice to schedule contemplative time each morning before I start the day, which helps me launch my day from a well of awareness. Each day, I also try to eat three solid nutritious meals. I have to be mindful to stay off the computer while I eat. By nightfall, I’m in bed with a good book.
Balance comes from rest.
Solitude brings happiness.
Peace within helps us become effective change agents in our communities.
Our film Boys and Men Healing was born from a season of rest, solitude and listening to our calling.
Are you overworked? Tired? Missing something you can’t quite name? Do you schedule rest and periods of solitude within your day? Can you take something off your plate to give yourself more breathing room? Do you allow yourself time to wonder, dream, to sleep on a hammock?
What are you waiting for?
We want you to give yourself the gift of renewal this week, to help you establish a self-care plan toward the road to renewal and restoration. If you can’t take an actual vacation, I’d like to offer you few tips to help you find your way back to your true self.
1. Unpack your schedule. Take things off your list. Keep only the essentials. What one or two things can you trim from your schedule this week?
2. Set Boundaries. Where can you say NO where you’re saying YES. Within your means, say NO to anything that doesn’t support the well-being of your body, mind and soul.
3. Schedule a Stay-cation. Even if you’re a change maker, counselor, activist or therapist working long hours, create time within the day to schedule mini vacations near home base–intending to calm your mind, and heal your body, and to give yourself a gift. Treating ourselves well is the a key to effective leadership. I call it healthy selfishness. Here are some ideas:
Discover the community where you live, find a local park to eat your favorite lunch. Try a yoga class, go to a local spa. Turn off the lights at home, use only candles and listen to favorite music. Unplug the computer and technology for a day or night. Take a soothing, long bath. Venture out for a walk in the neighborhood on a moonlit night. Get your favorite blanket and take a nap in a cozy spot. Dance in your living room, or attend to a hobby or interest you’ve been putting off. Identify five ideas that resonate with you. Schedule at least one or two on your calendar for this coming week.
4. Journaling or Contemplation time. Create a regular time each morning or evening to write to yourself, or find a quiet time to seek those parts of your life that mean the most. Journaling is particularly important for survivors of trauma and abuse, since through the writing process, we can access our authentic voices lost long ago. Ponder how you can bring these aspects from the shadows into your week. Ask yourself at every opportunity, ‘What is it I need right now’? The answer to this question is usually buried underneath layers of answers. I often think I need a vacation, when what I need is self-care, playfulness, or nature. Sometimes, as I journal to discover my deeper needs, I’m surprised to find a need for more respect from a particular person, or to forgive someone, lurking in the shadows. Inevitably, these gems of insight lighten my load, bringing more contentment.
5. Re-evaluate: When you feel rested and at peace (which can be days or weeks of these self-care activities), carve out time to re-evaluate some of your basic needs from this fresh place of renewal. Keep these needs first and foremost in planning your schedule.
6. Make rest, meditation, and solitude a daily practice. What specifically can you do to begin your practice today?
We’d love to hear some ways you’ll start your restorative journey!