Because I flit around the globe fairly frequently, people tend to assume I’m one of those good-to-go, Eat-Pray-Love-To-Travel kind of girls. I am not. My favorite fantasy is that I can just beam myself places á la Star Trek, nestling into my own bed every single night and a large portion of every day.
But once I’m traveling, I try to bloom where I’m planted, despite jetlag and disorientation. By and large, I do all right. This is especially true in the African bush, where I feel deeply relaxed despite days that begin as early as 3:00 a.m. and continue as late as midnight.
This scheduling isn’t masochism, just a fascination with animals both diurnal and nocturnal. The last evening I was at Londolozi, my friends and I were prepping dinner when we heard that two male leopards were squaring off for a fight nearby. Everyone sprinted to an open Land Rover, leaving the food on the table. We spent the next hour gazing at the incredibly brilliant stars and drinking mini-bar liqueurs while the leopards thrashed around us in the tall grass, growling at each other.
Sleep? Who needs it?
As it turns out, I do.
During my two weeks in Africa I have slept, by my own calculation, for approximately seventeen minutes. That said, it must be noted that “my own calculation” is none too trustworthy. I can tell you this for certain, because I cannot find my pants.
They’re my favorite pants—you know, that one perfect pair of black pants that fits well, doesn’t need ironing, and can go from casual to formal with a few accessories? Such pants are like soulmate; you don’t find them more than once or twice in a lifetime. I wore my special pants all day yesterday while training some wonderful coaches and having dinner with friends. After that I was so tired I don’t remember getting back to my hotel. When I woke up, my shoes, blouse, and jacket were on the floor by my bed. But my pants are gone. I’ve pawed through my luggage a dozen times, searched every inch of my hotel room.
You know, it’s impossible to predict what’s going to break the camel’s back.
This month I’ve heard tales of anti-Apartheid heroism, I toured a hospital where a patient casually toted a jug that was stuck through his chest wall so his punctured lung wouldn’t collapse, and spent an hour teaching a 15-year-old orphan who’s holding her family together with nothing but hope and grit. I heard by “bush telegram” (word-of-mouth) that Iceland went postal on Europe. I’ve handled this all with deep breaths, optimism, and a smile.
But my favorite pants going AWOL—well, that’s just too much.
Worse than the wrenching loss and the terrible fear of never ever ever finding such a great pair of pants again, is my utter bewilderment. What the hell happened to them? My addled brain keeps going through the possibilities:
• In my sleep-deprived madness, I could have had some sort of wild fling in the hotel elevator. If so, it seems deeply unfair that I can’t remember it.
• Perhaps as I was undressing, I hallucinated a dragon coming in through the open window, and defended myself—as one does—by hurling my pants at it.
• Extremely tired people do weird things in their sleep (I have an insomniacal friend who awoke one morning to find approximately 500 “Thank you for your order!” emails from Amazon.com). For all I know, I gave my pants to the maid as a tip.
• Perhaps my subconscious self hates globe-trotting, and stuffed my favorite travel pants into the hotel ventilation system reasoning that without them, I’ll just stay home.
• Maybe I ate them.
At any rate, they’re gone, and this on top of the anti-Apartheid stories and the punctured-lung jug and the orphans and Iceland LITERALLY invading Europe…well, it just makes me want to lie down and suck my thumb forever.
I’m so grateful for my happy, itinerant life. I know you’re grateful for the good in your life as well. But sometimes we wake up and our pants are inexplicably gone, and at those times, it’s okay to be weak. It’s okay to slump to the floor in a hotel robe, pound the carpet, and, yes, use strong language. It’s okay to feel that of all the massive natural and man-made disasters in the world, the bizarre disappearance of our own personal favorite pants is for us, at that moment, by far the worst.
All right, enough whining. It’s time to pull myself together, regain perspective, and prepare for another really lovely event, which I will experience through the light haze of a waking REM doze. It’s time to be thankful that I have other pants—inferior ones, but pants—to wear in place of my bygone favorites.
And I am thankful. I truly am. Just please, God, let my underwear be where I left it.
This week I sliced my thumb nearly to the bone, smashed my knee so hard my head exploded, bought $400 worth of software it turned out I did not need, and spent one long day griping at everyone I saw. This, gentle reader, does not fulfill my self-help motto “live it to give it.”
At the end of that awful day, bruised and bleeding from both my thumb and my bank account, I realized I had lost the life rhythm of my essential self. I was working flat out and accomplishing very little.
This is not a first for me.
Past experience has taught me that although we all have the same amount of time in one day of our lives, we can put a great deal of life in our days by re-establishing our natural rhythm. It’s not about working harder, smarter or faster; it’s about working in harmony.
The rhythm of our essential selves is like almost every other rhythm in nature. It has two phases which I call “rest” and “play.” When you rest in harmony with your essential self, you feel as drowsy and contented as a cat in the sun. Right now, look back on a wonderful lazy day in your past. Maybe you were falling in love or you just finished a huge project. For some reason, you’ve given yourself permission to just goof off.
For the next ten minutes, give yourself that permission again. For me, it helps to pretend I’m in the company of “resting buddies.” These are real people in my life with whom I’ve goofed off in the past. As I picture them, that energy of loving relaxation comes back easily. It can also help to be around an animal — a horse, an iguana, or a dog — who is just being.
As you stay connected with your essential self through rest, there will come a moment when something piques your interest. You will want to get up and investigate, or you’ll be thrilled by the idea of exploring some area of your life – familiar or unfamiliar. (For me, this often takes the form of something I want to write.)
This is your signal that the essential self has finished resting and wants to play. Let it.
In previous posts, I’ve mentioned the idea of using the word play to replace the word work. If you have no way to feel playful doing your work, get different work.
This is not to say that play is easy. Real creativity, which is the essence of play, can feel absolutely grueling. But ultimately there is a sense of joy and meaning in having done it. The essential self doesn’t mind hard work. But it will reject meaningless work.
Of course you may not always be able to dictate the times when the external world wants you to work or play. So make conscious deals with your essential self (I’ve shown you how to do this in my first-ever video blog) Say right out loud, “Essential self, I promise you, that if you get up now and drive to the office with me, I will spend 2 hours goofing off this evening.” (For me “goofing off” is always watching TV with my family.) Or “Essential self, my body’s too tired to keep playing and I need rest. I’ll play your favorite computer game so you can wind down.” You’d be amazed how your energy cooperates when you make and keep such promises.
This is what I did to get back in touch with my own harmony. Though I felt as if I were slowing down, every good thing in my life suddenly quickens. People who had been ignoring me once again began returning my emails and getting my work done. Once I’d rested deeply, the project I was “playing” on developed with astonishing speed and ease.
You get more life in your time when you find the path of harmony, rather than the path of force. And it really, truly feels as if you have more time in your life, too.
More time. Can you imagine that?
My friend Dan believes that our whole lives are metaphorically prefigured in the story of our respective births. I’ve been asking everyone, to see if I agree, and I have to admit Dan has a point.
My own birth was pretty normal except that I was huge—10 pounds, 14 ounces. Eight years later, when I went to get allergy shots, the pediatrician’s nurse looked at my chart and then cried out in what sounded like horror, “Oh, my gosh, you were that enormous baby!” And, indeed, there are still plenty of people who’ll tell you I have far too big a footprint on the earth.
I’ve written about two of my children’s births in different memoirs: Adam came into the world triumphantly peeing in the face of an obstetrician who would rather have performed his abortion; he has lived as a walking testament to the value of being different. Lizzy’s birth was early and easy, just like her departure from home (she’s 19 and already living in Japan). My first child, Katie (sorry, I mean Kat) almost stalled out because I was trying too hard to give birth perfectly. I was in labor for 40 hours before I finally had an epidural, fell asleep, and relaxed. Then she popped right out. And since then, she’s always held back until she’s sure before going ahead with anything.
What was your birth story? If you know it, think about how it might inform your life right now. Call your mom and get the details—I promise, giving birth is something most of us can talk about until were blue in the face (and many of us were, right around the time our babies emerged.
Dan suggests that you close your eyes and rest for the circumstances of your own birth; for your mother, your father, siblings, other relatives, friends. Soften the pain and magnify the joy of the event. Retroactively fill it with as much love as it will hold (hint: a lot). It’s worth the time. After all, I think it’s pretty safe to say it was one of the most important days of your life. Then, as Kabir suggested, “hold each moment as I did my son when he was born.”