On Saturday morning, I finally dusted off my journal in one of the most serene spots I’ve enjoyed writing in. The past few months have been a true grind: a big grant deadline on the 25th; a grant that’s been in planning stages for years and the intensity of actually creating what turned out to be a 2100-page, 100Mb pdf file ramping up since the spring. The past couple of months have meant long hours, with weekends slowly shrinking until they were practically non-existent, the only difference being I worked at home from my pajamas rather than my office across the city. Weekends, early mornings, and evenings. My runs shrunk in parallel, with my Tuesday evening ritual with the team harder and harder to make work and impossible the past month. Time with friends and with family was hard to carve out, and try as I might to be present and in the moment when I did have precious time with them, I admit to being distracted and a million other places. J and I would breathe the same air at times, but he certainly bore the biggest burden of my schedule, with a quick kiss in the morning, a hurried dinner (that he’d have cooked), and our time together at home in the evenings having to include a third wheel: my laptop.
And then, almost anticlimactically, the “submit” button was pressed (not even by me, but by our institutional signatory), and the grant was no longer the center of my world. I was suddenly free to do all the things I had dreamt of doing in those late nights, those early mornings, sometimes every waking moment. I could run for more than thirty minutes! I could write again! I could read for more than five minutes before falling asleep! I could adventure with J!
What I was really looking forward to was taking a few days off and trying to do nothing before filling up the void with an equal amount of busy.
I have lived 30-coughcough years on this planet knowing that I am terrible at “doing nothing.” I have also lived 30-coughcough years feeling almost guilty about perceiving this as a flaw somehow. So, needless to say, taking a few days off without a destination or a plan did not fill me with the carefree bliss I had envisioned. Instead, I felt rather aimless, rather heavy. I found myself mindlessly scrolling through social media a lot for that dopamine rush of external input. I found myself at once restless for adventure and change and almost incapacitated to make a decision about what to do. I agonized over wanting to spend time with J and wanting to spontaneously leave town. I wasn’t in a mind space to allow R&R to recharge my batteries; instead, it was making me crazy.
So, I jumped at the chance to join a teamie friend and her husband – and, in quite an out-of-character move, four others I didn’t know at all – on a weekend trip to a rustic house along Highway 1 in Big Sur. Fresh air, trail runs, the rugged coastline, all sounded like the perfect ointment for my frayed neurons. Even with some pre-trip bickering and last-minute doubts about going, I was happy to hop in the car with J to join the group for the drive down.
Saturday morning, I slipped out of the house with a mug of coffee, perhaps shirking a bit the breakfast duties already in progress, and wandered the winding paths surrounding the house. The grounds were wild and overgrown, but every plant had been meticulously placed to evoke a sense of imperfect paradise. Sitting in an old chair, I finally was able to write. No sooner had I written a line about feeling lousy doing nothing all day, did a hummingbird whir by me. It danced a few moments around the bottlebrush tree in front of me, and then did a rare hummingbird thing. It perched. I’ve seen hummingbirds perch before. It usually lasts 30 seconds before they dart on their way, always seeking the next flower or fly.
This hummingbird joined me for several minutes. I stopped writing, and watched. Even at rest, the hummingbird was moving. Its head darted around, always alert – for predators, for a mate, I could not tell. And it started to chirp, a low almost guttural chirp surprisingly unshrill for something its size. It sat on its branch and chirped – I can’t call it singing – its head nearly making a 360-degree circle, while its body rested. It was moving but with purpose, not anxious, but taking a break from flying by performing a different but also important task for a moment. And then, a different chirp as it zeroed in on a blossom and darted off to sip its nectar.
Needless to say, this tiny bird seemed to me at that moment – and still does, looking back – as a manifestation of every sense I have had this week about recharging and relaxing. Yes, there is much my therapist will probably tell me tomorrow about why I interpret “doing nothing” as “lazy” instead of as a necessary reset, and yes, there is some amount of work I can do to tell myself that “doing nothing” to recharge isn’t being lazy or that I’m not a horrible person for not doing the gazillion things on my to-do list. But, as I’m working to understand why it’s stressful for me to not have a plan, to not have a sense of purpose, to not have at least a goal for my days, I can also hold in that space the idea that perhaps this work to understand why isn’t so that I can change it, but so that I can best do what I need to do for myself. To stop apologizing for needing to have specific goals or plans while also not expecting others to make them for me or feeling bad about creating them for myself. To understand the difference between constant movement for movement’s sake and constant movement with a purpose. To embrace the hummingbird in me that is almost biologically wired to not sit still not because of anxiety but because it instinctually knows how to rest one aspect of its being while developing another.