Whenever I am in the woods, I ask myself, “Why am I not here more often?!” I can feel how good it is for my mind, body, and spirit to be there. And I also ask myself, “Why are these trails not full of people, since this is so good for what ails us?”
A decade-and-a-half ago, I came across The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz. They tell of how they once worked with top tennis players, to improve their performance. When they looked at the videotape (it was actual videotape back then) all the groundstrokes, volleys, and serves seemed to be the same. What was the difference between the championship players and the mediocre ones?
Then they noticed something that they hadn’t before. The championship players had some kind of ritual between points (like fiddling with their racquet strings). When they did their own research they discovered that the championship tennis players between points were able to lower their heart rates 20-30 beats per minute more than the mediocre ones.
They were taking microrests, resetting themselves, letting go of the last point. And this small thing made all the difference. By the time the fifth set came around the championship players had the stamina to win.
Loehr and Schwartz remind us that we are oscillatory beings. Yes, we need times of positive energy stress, even pushing past former limits. And, we need times of deep relaxation and rejuvenation. Patterns of rest and rejuvenation are needed at the micro level, the macro level, and everything in between.
The problem in our fast-paced society is that it’s unrelenting. When we are always going, we are actually less productive. We know this and yet our world is like the strong current of a river. It’s really hard to not get swept up by it.
The central dynamic of their book is this:
The key to optimal performance is not about managing our time; it’s about managing our energy.
At the time of writing their book they had moved on to working with business executives, many of whom find their jobs and life to be unrelenting. I remember a particular person they talked about. She was an executive who worked 60+ hours per week running a company, was married, and had 2 kids. She felt like it was hard to continue at this breakneck pace. They asked her, What did you do back in college to replenish yourself? She replied that she used to take walks in the woods. She loved it. But, she said, there’s no way she had room for that now. They told her, to put the walk in the woods in her calendar first. Red X it. Prioritize it. Because that choice is great investment of energy, that will rejuvenate her. So she did it and was surprised to find how that was a catalyst to making radical shifts in her life so that she could stay in her work AND be sustainable.
When we are in the midst of living at a hectic pace, it doesn’t seem like, and maybe even neurologically it’s not possible for us to, see how we could have any space to fit in something else. And yet, when we make a radical choice to slow down and choose something that truly replenishes us (a good investment), we experientially realize that completely changes our outlook, and hence changes everything.
Yes, it’s about walks in the woods, and journaling and such. And it’s about connecting with loved ones, taking time to be present, to know and be known. To laugh till we cry out of the sides of our eyes. To say Yes to Play, presence, joy, connection.
May you dare to take time to rest and rejuvenate over this holiday season and end of the year and be curious how it impacts your life.
I’ll leave you with a poem that reminds us that burning bright in this life is a confluence of both fuel and the space between.
Fire by Judy Brown
What makes a fire burn
is space between the logs,
a breathing space.
Too much of a good thing,
too many logs
packed in too tight
can douse the flames
almost as surely
as a pail of water would.
So building fires
to the spaces in between,
as much as to the wood.
When we are able to build
in the same way
we have learned
to pile on the logs,
then we can come to see how
it is fuel, and absence of the fuel
together, that make fire possible
We only need to lay a log
lightly from time to time.
simply because the space is there,
in which the flame
that knows just how it wants to burn
can find its way.