The art of pulling back

I spent three semesters in university, switching programs multiple times in search of greener pastures, before being honest enough to acknowledge that I needed to withdraw for a time. I had lost direction and was burnt out, much as I hated to admit it.

I quietly dropped out of university in December 2014 and wandered into five months of empty space to recover and refocus. I’m now standing at the end of this period and, in hindsight, I can see that it was one of the healthiest decisions I’ve ever made.

The natural rhythm of life pushes us through different seasons. For me, pulling back was difficult at first. It seemed as though I was wasting opportunities. I like the feeling of being able to do it all, but in this season I needed to actively say no to opportunities that I knew I was fully capable of pursuing in order to focus more fully on projects that mattered. I needed breathing room. 

I believe in the roots of things, and when life gets a little out of control on the outside, it is likely that the problem started subtly on a deeper level. To fix the craziness, you have to do the work of filtering out the excess to expose the root again. This is a pick and chisel process and, for sensitive souls like me, it hurts. I hate saying no and I hate the thought of letting another person down. However, I’m beginning to understand that when I am burned out, I am no good to anyone. It displays a certain amount of integrity to learn how to say no graciously. Saying yes is sometimes a grasp for personal validation, a symbol of capability. But too much “yes” can suffocate and can lead to more painful “no’s” down the road.

As I purge, I’ve had to make decisions about what to keep and what to lay aside. I’ve also had to choose what to do with the extra space, and I’m trying to shift the way I approach the concept of time. Rather than using time as an arena to fill with tasks, I’m learning to enjoy time itself. To do that, I’ve been developing little rhythms that marry time and task to produce a richer sense of meaning in my days.

‘Being Sabbath’
These rhythms are simple and they really started from the biblical concept of Sabbath. For the past few months I’ve been protecting my Sundays. I’ve used them to wake up early, spend time in quiet, walk in nature, read, engage in good conversation and essentially just enjoy being. Then I began to create small moments of Sabbath in every day. Now this habit is becoming a new way of seeing. My goals have shifted from a list of tasks and accomplishments to a state of being. I want to be like a Sabbath to the people I encounter. In order to invest well in others, I need my time to enrich and fill me.

These rhythms mostly consist of injecting mundane moments with simple pleasures and carving out meaningful spaces in every day. I take time to go for regular walks or a swim as I think or pray. At the end of every day, I clean my physical space and spend time in quiet, simply reading a book or writing on paper. If I need to go into a place or situation that I am dreading, I take 10 minutes to pause and pray, usually in my car, before going inside. I take pictures of simple beauties that I stumble across. I talk to people in the store or at the pool, and often these little encounters lead to amazing conversations and stories. 

None of these activities is particularly profound. This isn’t a formula. It is kneading intentionality and awareness into regular life. It is recognizing what fills you and weaving these things into the fabric of your time. Now I have discovered that I am more productive, more grounded and more purposeful than when I used to chronically say yes and attempt to do it all. When I return to school in the fall, I’ll be coming in with a stronger sense of self and a new perspective on how to approach work. I’m discovering a new quality of life through the rhythm of Sabbath and substituting meaning for busyness as I learn the delicate art of pulling back.
 

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