April 26, 2018
Life is full of obligations. Work, school, caring for children, caring for parents, deadlines, due dates, doctor's visits, the carpool, the groceries, the laundry, the bills. Then there's the news, which contains reasons for anxiety and spurs to action: postcards, petitions, protests, campaigns. Then there's the rabbit-hole of looking deeper into one's media choices: am I reading a sufficiently broad cross-section of sources, am I engaging with diverse viewpoints, am I putting my attention in the right places? If I'm an activist on this front, am I ignoring that issue? And meanwhile did I forget to pick up the dry-cleaning, and when will I unload the dishwasher, and is there milk for breakfast tomorrow morning, and, and, and...
Each of us could list a litany of stressors and obligations. (And for some of us making the list is comforting, offering a sense of "control" over the to-do's -- while for others the fact of the list itself can be anxiety-provoking, fuel for an emotional tailspin.)
But what would go on your counter-list, the list of things that replenish you rather than draining you?
Maybe it's curling up with a cup of tea or coffee, not as fuel for your daily work but as an opportunity to pause and savor. Maybe it's cuddling with a pet or a loved one. Maybe it's treating yourself to a good novel or piece of fiction. Maybe it's studying Torah or Hasidut or Mussar. Maybe it's reading poetry. (Maybe it's writing poetry.) Maybe it's a hot bath, or a visit to the gym, or a walk outdoors. Maybe it's yoga or meditation. Maybe it's prayer. Maybe it's wrapping yourself in tallit and tefillin. Maybe it's listening to music, or singing, or playing an instrument. Maybe it's lunch with a friend. Maybe it's Shabbes -- which could mean lighting candles and blessing bread and wine, or being with friends or family or community, or going to shul, or staying home; it could mean relinquishing technology for a day, or changing your technology use so that it nourishes rather than depleting.
For me one of the perennial challenges in replenishing myself is giving myself permission to focus there in the first place. There's so much that needs doing: on a personal level (work, dishes, parenting), on a community level (am I doing enough to give back?), on a national level (I'm not satisfied with the current American body politic), on a global level (am I doing enough to work against climate change, or toward greater interfaith understanding?) The work that needs to be done is endless.
And that endlesssness is precisely why and how I give myself permission to replenish my own well. The work is without limit: it will never be done. If I try to throw myself at it without stopping, I'll burn out and that will be the end of my capacity to make things better than they are. If I can pause to replenish, then I can return to the neverending tasks at hand with renewed vigor.
There are things that replenish me in body, in heart, in mind, in spirit (all four worlds.) Some of them change with the seasons, though many are perennial. Over time I've learned what refills my well, and I've learned techniques for short-circuiting the self-critical voice that sometimes nags "why are you taking care of yourself when there's so much else to do?" I've learned that my body is nourished by good food and hot showers and clean laundry, and my heart is nourished by time with my beloveds, and my mind is nourished by reading and study, and my spirit is nourished by tallit and tefillin and song.
What replenishes you, and what are you doing to take care of yourself so you can wake with strength to another day?