Monday, January 26, 2009

Exhausted No More: Overcoming Fatigue With Wholeheartedness

David Whyte, a passionate poet originally from Wales and now the Northwest, writes that the antidote to exhaustion is wholeheartedness. Exhaustion is the hallmark of our times of overwork, war, politics, fear. This call to action might seem out of place when what most of us want is a good night’s sleep, or two. And while sleep deprivation is a very real concern in our culture and must be addressed on a number of fronts, I write here of a component of fatigue that is as lacking as eight hours a night for many Americans.

Wholeheartedness. You recognize it in someone else when it’s there, that quality of being sincerely devoted, determined, enthusiastic and marked by complete commitment. Free from all reserve or hesitation. In it with one’s whole heart. You know it when you feel it. Are you feeling it now? How do you become wholehearted when you are in demand, pulled in too many directions?

Our bodies and minds naturally want to withdraw and tighten up when we are overwhelmed, overworked, over-stimulated. This natural tendency serves us well for the occasional period when work, worries and obligations weigh us down. Research shows, however, that when a human being lives in a nearly constant state of physical and emotional overload, this natural response becomes unnatural. To close down, clench teeth, and be on the lookout for the next assault put enormous strains on our bodies and psyches. While we imagine we are helping ourselves by saying “no,” it turns out we create more exhaustion by not saying “yes” more often and more fully.

If you are a caregiver, you know all about feeling overwhelmed and overworked. You most likely wrestle with the internal dialogue endlessly, knowing you are brave, generous and loving, in spite of feeling tight, closed and ornery sometimes. What about this idea of “yes?” What does that really mean for you?

There is an ancient story about the seeker of enlightenment who finally finds the wise one on a mountaintop. “How do I attain happiness?” the seeker asks breathlessly. The wise one utters one word, “now.” The seeker asks again. The wise one responds with the same word. After several rounds of question and same answer, growing more frustrated, the seeker turns away in disgust, bemoaning the time lost seeking the truth only to find someone so dumb as to utter a single meaningless word. What bad luck, the seeker cries in self-pity!

Doing what we love brings us to the moment and there is nothing like the moment to convince us to be wholehearted. Getting lost in the pure joy of tinkering or a favorite pastime, lingering over tea and a sweet with someone cherished, painting, writing, playing music, doing work that underscores competence and creates confidence are the sure paths to happiness, to feeling energized and whole, to being wholehearted.

So, next time you feel stuck or trapped, and are looking for a shortcut to an obligation, instead of trying to make it go away or pass quickly, stay in it for a while. Imagine having found the wise one who says over and over, “now.” Or as the American journalist and inspirational writer, Mignon McLaughlin wrote, “What you can’t get out of, get into wholeheartedly.”

And then get some sleep. The combination will do wonders! Try our Anti-Snore Pillow and let your partner sleep well, too.

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