Erosion and Foundations

This picture was taken from a spot where I often sit in the abandoned quarry across from my house. I go there because it is peaceful, and sort of otherworldly, and yet at the same time close to my house, a five-minute walk across the road and up into the mountains of rubbled slate.

It is quiet there. If I look out, I can see the cars come up the road and through town, but I rarely hear them. And since except for the farmer’s rush hour of about seven in the morning, we have very little traffic, I can spend an hour or two there and never see a car.

Having a place of peace like this has been a godsend for me. I picked my house because I liked the house and it was in the general area I wanted to live in and because it was inexpensive. But the quarry has been the best thing about living there.

Not everyone needs a place of peace like I do. I’ve discovered its essentialness to my well being a little late. I was in my late forties or early fifties.

I had always known I liked my down time, my alone time, but I, like a lot of people, just thought is was a quirk of personality. Almost an indulgence. I had no idea what it did for me, or what would happen to me if I didn’t have it.

So, like other things in my life that were essential, but we don’t realize are essential, I let it go. I had responsibilities, jobs, kids, a marriage. I liked (and still like) being someone who can be counted on, but I didn’t realize that, in chipping away at that down time, bit by bit by bit, I was not being responsible at all. I was eroding the very things that made me someone who could be counted on. Slowly, slowly, slowly, I came undone.

I kind of felt it happening. I even talked about it some to people around me. But all they saw was that I was holding it all together. On the surface, all was well. Work got done. The kids got played with. The grass got mowed. Promises were made and promises were kept. I was “successful.”

Because that is what I was taught to do. You get it done. You don’t let them see you sweat. No matter what hits, you dig in, do the work, stiff upper lip and preferably, with a smile.

But what if you are eroding underneath? What then? I had no way of knowing. I had no role models to help me. And I grew up in a family where therapy and counseling were looked at as a weakness.

So I plowed on. Many of you have done the same. I plowed and plowed and the ground under me eroded and eroded until it all came undone. Until I became undone. Fell apart. Broke down. Pick your verbiage, but I was a mess. So much a mess that I did what I thought I would never do.

I got help.

What I learned is what I should have known all along. That down time was essential to me. It was what gave me time to process. It’s where I recharged. It let my feelings catch up to my peripatetic life of activity. It allowed me to connect to God and the spiritual side of me, which is where energy and strength come from. And not allowing myself that time was slowly draining me of the very strength I needed to do all these things for others.

I was killing myself in an attempt to be useful to others.

And I had no idea.

I think a lot of us do that. We’re raised to think taking time for ourselves is selfish. We are raised that way, and at times, the people land institutions around us re-enforce that idea. Churches. Work. Organizations. Family. Friends. They all want part of us for one reason or another. And often they perpetuate that idea that to be “good” we will give our time, give up the things that seem foolish or selfish, when in fact, they may be the things that make us who we are, that give us strength, that allow us to handle what the world throws at us.

Don’t get me wrong. We all have periods of time in life when doing consumes us and there is less or no time for being. Times of crisis. Times of opportunity. Times of joy. This is not what I am talking about.

What I am talking about is when that doing without time to be, to recharge, to rest, becomes a way of life and goes on and on and on, when it becomes the pattern of our life.

I am grateful for my breakdown. It was a terrible time in my life. The worst of times. I hate who I was and hate what I become. I honestly don’t know how I got through it. There was nothing of me left. But I did get through. And the lessons I learned, about how I work, about how most of us work, was not just life saving, it was life creating.

I found myself again. And I learned how to heal myself. And how to stay healthy.

And I have learned that giving myself that time apart (which can be physically apart, or just mentally/emotionally apart) does not just help me; it helps me help the people I love better, more effectively, and for a longer, more consistent time.

Today, I am kind of evangelistic about taking that time, and about telling others that they need to do the same. That serving others is great, but that part of serving others is taking care of yourself. I don’t want others to learn the way I learned.

So I go to the quarry. Or paint in my studio. Or write in a cafe. It’s not the getting away. It’s the centering and recharging. The rebecoming of myself. It’s the foundation.

What is your foundation? How are you making sure it stays strong? That’s a question I often ask others. We all know the answer. That we need to take care of ourselves. No one argues that. But we don’t do it.

Why not?

Why don’t we believe what we know is true. No one has ever told me “I should not take care of myself.”. But there is always a reason not to.

I would argue that we don’t do it because we don’t think we are worth it. Everyone else is worth more than we are. So we put ourselves last. Whether that is because of some religious reason, because of upbringing or because of self-esteem issues doesn’t matter – the result is the same.

I finally found an answer that worked for me in the bible. Where Jesus tells his disciples that ALL of the law and prophets – in other words, everything – boiled down to two things, loving God, and loving others AS ourselves.

AS. Not more than. Not less than. AS.

If all the people we care for, all the groups we care for are of immense value to us, we should be of equal value to ourselves. That single thought helped me rethink how I took care of myself, how I gave myself the grace to go to the quiet places. To create. To restore my soul.

And to do it without guilt. To do it joyously. To let it reaffirm my worth. To reclaim my worth. And to declare it to the universe. It gave me an authority bigger than myself to say “I have value too.” without, as I said, guilt.

We may all get to that place other ways. This was just my path. But the truth remains. Taking care of ourselves is far more crucial than most of us will admit.

I would hate for others to lose themselves as I did. I would hate for others to crash and burn as I did. So I shout it from the mountaintops. I preach it in church. I evangelize it in my coaching work and in my management style.

And today I rant at you.

Off my soapbox.

For now.

Tom

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