I’m writing this from my favorite spot on earth – Cape Ann, Massachusetts. It’s a little spit of land off the north coast of the state, and it’s all light and ocean and old houses and visits from nearly forgotten but essential ghosts of myself. We spent almost every summer up here when I was a child, and at every turn I can catch a glimpse of my younger self at the other end of the beach, or in the light dappled shadows of the trees, or further down the dense forest paths where the wild blueberries can be found. And the most wonderful thing about all this is that when I look around, I see that my ghosts aren’t alone.
For example, have you ever noticed how the beach is a great equalizer? People of all ages wander the sand looking for shells and sea glass, or squeal when they put their toes in the Atlantic in June, or lie on beach towels and chat for hours while they bury their hands in the sand.
In four days, it will officially be summer. I know, I know. You have work to do, a full schedule, a demanding life. But isn’t it true that everything in the world has a counterpart, that all actions have equal and opposite reactions? One of our biggest faults as a society is that we tend to convince ourselves that, in all our greatness, the laws of the physical and natural universe will probably just bend on our behalf. We don’t really need all that much sleep. Or to feed ourselves well. Or soften and be vulnerable. We’re too busy working and doing and earning to think of such trivialities.
That is, until we get sick, or burn out, or get divorced, or lose our jobs and think our lives are over if we can’t earn as much money as we once did. Sooner or later, the balance we haven’t cultivated is going to come crashing down on us like so many spiritual and/or metaphysical bricks.
So how’d I get from beach days and childhood to such a sobering reminder? I’m so sorry, but you made me do it. Because the beauty isn’t enough, is it? The gentle call from within you — the one that already asked you to schedule a beach day approximately six trillion times since the last frost – keeps getting told it can wait. Even though we all know it can’t. Just because your work voice is a bully doesn’t mean it’s right. In fact, the loudest and bossiest among us are usually the most exhausted and cranky.
So how’s your wandering calendar? Have you scheduled any Not Work? Maybe you can circle June 21st on your calendar. Draw a star by it, or outline it in every pen color you can find, or just mark it with something else totally ridiculous to remind the hidden, quieter parts of yourself that you’re going to make it OK for them to come out of hiding. You’re going to make some space for them to breathe. You might even find a way to let them run around a bit and stretch their legs. Maybe even play.
And the great part of all this is that you can justify it to the most sober and serious and responsible parts of you. Because even they know beyond a shadow of a doubt that a life of work produces nothing. That distress and disease and discomfort and disappointment don’t make you into some kind of noble work martyr. They just martyr your work. The real saints among us – and most of the creative and productive and accomplished people I admire – radiate joy. Aren’t you ready to join them? Aren’t you ready to be whole again?