Contact

Contact

This morning I really wanted to stay in bed.  The room was dark, the sheets were cool, my husband was still sleeping soundly.  I wanted to lay there, and then get up at my leisure, check my email and drink coffee.  So instead of letting myself lay there and think about getting up and what I really wanted to do, I just got up.   Somehow I managed to turn off my thinking and stumble through the physical motions of putting feet on the floor, gathering up clothes, getting a drink of water and finding the keys.  I got in the jeep, drove 5 miles southeast and crossed the St. Croix River into the little town of Osceola, Wisconsin.  It’s situated high on the bluffs overlooking the river valley, and the river this morning was as smooth as glass.  I didn’t stop at the river today though, I continued on and went north through the downtown area as shops set up for the day and open signs flickered on.  At County Road S, I turned left and found myself at the little parking area for one of Wisconsin’s “State Natural Areas.”

There are 373,000 acres spread out between 673 natural areas across the state, and they are used for research and education, the preservation of genetic and biological diversity and for providing benchmarks for determining the impact of use on managed lands.  I appreciate them because they tend to be punctuated with more wildness and unknowns and refreshing energy than the surrounding more peopled areas.   At any rate, this one on County S has proven to be a place where I can recalibrate or refocus when needed.  Apparently this morning my body needed recalibration, and that need won out over my mind telling me to just do the same old safe and easy routine.

I parked the jeep in the empty lot and tied my keys into the laces of the ugliest pair of trail running shoes I’ve ever had and started jogging into the tree cover. (why are all women’s trail running shoes pink, or purple or turquoise or some other neon color?)   The trail starts wide and takes you down to the river backwaters if you go straight.  Today I turned left to cross the wooden footbridge over a spring fed creek and started running down a single track through a stand of tall pines.  This single track takes you deep into the woods, and it’s always dark back there, no matter how bright the sun is shining.  And quiet.   It’s like someone turned the volume down and bumped up the contrast — it’s easier to notice the details, even when running.  There are always deer and squirrels and a myriad of other small creatures scurrying about on the forest floor.  One spring I almost stepped on a tiny spotted fawn, likely just days old, laying in the middle of the trail.

Today I followed the loop trail quickly and had two white tail deer for company while deep in the woods, a Pine Marten looking me in the eyes from a dead tree that had fallen across the path at the midpoint, and the sound of rushing waters moving downward toward the river valley after turning to follow the ridge of the creek bed back to the footbridge.  I was reminded why it’s important to have contact with wild things.  It brings things back into perspective and invites wonder into the ordinary, even if just for a moment.

Just 45 minutes after arriving, I was back at the parking area to head home into my work day.  And now as I sit here looking at this screen, I’m glad I listened to the urge to recalibrate, and to make contact with the unpredictable nature of the things that inhabit the unpeopled places.   Knowing that there are places with cold, tumbling water and deer grazing amidst a backdrop of the open space above the river valley and Pine Martens at home in trees that seem to reach up endlessly toward the sky………knowing these things exist in the world is enough to remind me what’s real.  It’s not what’s on the screen.

“It’s safe to stay home and watch reruns of Star Trek and fiddle with Facebook and track digital gossip, but it’s also shallow and lifeless.  Whether it’s with sharks or bears [or deer or running water] experiencing nature sets your foundations in a way an iPad never will.  It has to do with contact.  As Thoreau writes in The Maine Woods: ‘Contact!  Contact! ‘  You can’t get contact from a screen”  ~ Jack Turner

The Other Side Of The Road

The Other Side Of The Road

A runner for years, I have logged a lot of miles. Currently I run a 2 mile loop around the tiny lake that our neighborhood is centered on almost every day. It’s not far, and I don’t usually go very fast, but this time outside, re-connecting to the energy of my immediate surroundings helps to keep me centered in reality. It keeps my physical body’s cardiovascular system functioning in an efficient way, it gives my leg muscles some exercise and it forces me to pay attention to where I’m placing my feet.

I’ve had issues in the last few months with some mild discomfort in my right ankle that has worked its way up into the shin/calf area of my leg. It hasn’t been enough to keep me from heading out each morning, but it HAS been enough for me to notice it and wish it didn’t feel that way. It has been enough to invite a sense of dread when heading on a run when I’d rather be looking forward to enjoying the movement.

I got some new shoes, hoping that would help. It didn’t. I wore my old shoes again. No change. I tried running with different posture and just got frustrated that I wasn’t enjoying my running anymore due to trying to place my feet in a way that didn’t seem natural. I started to feel like perhaps my body was just unbalanced and it was just something I was going to have to accommodate – or that I was simply going to have to stop running. And then a few days ago, as a last ditch effort, I ran on the other side of the road.

Most of my route is on gravel, on a road that slopes down just slightly on each side, presumably to allow proper drainage. Good for infrastructure and road maintenance, but not so good for human bodies when they always run on the same side. Due to always being just slightly tilted while in motion, my right ankle finally started to protest. And now, since I started running on the other side (yes, the “wrong” side, with traffic instead of against which is another matter entirely), the pain has minimized. I will, of course have to switch back and forth to avoid developing pain in the left side, stay mindful of my posture and pay attention to my foot placement in order to continue running successfully. But, at least for now, it’s nice to know that the answer was less complicated than I anticipated.

There are a lot of issues that are not so easily solved: Humans as a whole continue to use more resources than the planet can sustainably provide, multitudes are exploited every day by the choices made by a wealthy minority, and the corporate culture of more, better, faster continues to pervade everyday life for far too many souls. But despite the dire state of so much of the world, it is heartening to know that sometimes the solution is as simple as running on the other side of the road. Perhaps some of our answers lie in looking for ways to do the things we do every day just differently enough to have an impact that contributes to healing instead of destruction.

gravel

 

What can you do differently today to invite healing into your life, and into the world?

 

 

Featured image: by Andrew Cooper http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Andrew_Cooper

 

 

BURNOUT

BURNOUT

What causes burnout? Long hours, a job that is too challenging or not challenging enough, monotony, a long winter, a disconnect between the employer and employee values, being in a caregiver role, always being the one to ask “how are you today?” and responding appropriately to whatever response is provided……the list could get pretty long.  Whatever the root cause, burnout can have a lot of impact on day to day life.  According to psychologist Herbert J. Freudenberger, who coined the term in 1972, burnout is a state of fatigue or frustration brought about by a devotion to a cause, a way of life, or a relationship that has failed to produce the expected reward. Burnout is essentially a condition caused by passion and good intentions that have absorbed everything that is available to give.

 Burnout is about not enough. Being burned out means feeling empty, devoid of motivation, and beyond caring. People experiencing burnout often don’t see any hope of positive change in their situations. If excessive stress is like drowning in responsibilities, burnout is being all dried up.  – Helpguide.org. (Melinda Smith, M.A., Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., and Robert Segal, M.A)

My day job is to support people as they figure out how to live in a healthy way.  I’ve been in my current position for exactly seven years, and though I truly value the relationships that I have with the people I interact with and can see the reason for most of the less glamorous job tasks that are required, last week I hit a bit of a wall.   And when I say “hit a wall” I mean in a head on collision, can’t function kind of way.  I just couldn’t do it anymore.  So I spent the two days I took off work sleeping, getting a haircut that was two years overdue, walking along my favorite creek bed and doing yoga.   I feel better after four days away from the office, but it’s not gone yet.  My next step is going to be figuring out how to take some more time off.  We’ll see how that goes.  The good news is that my light is flickering on again, even if it’s dim.

Once we identify that we are experiencing signs of burnout and acknowledge what is going on, we can take strides to change what can be changed, accept what needs to be accepted, and shift our focus to remembering what really matters in life.  We can prioritize what is going to allow us live in a way that honors what we value. We can look the fear of ‘feeling burnt out forever’ in the face and see all the beauty that is still there, just under the surface.  Just past the strong front that we put up on good days.  Just behind the expectations we hold for ourselves without even recognizing their loftiness.

We can remember why we have been so devoted, and we can remember that to be devoted – to anything – we have to take care of our own needs.

For me, some of the important things to priotitize are spending time with my family, having authentic conversations with people, being outside, growing and cooking food, hearing my daughter giggle, digging in the garden and watching the sunrise.  When I can remember that those things are what matter to me (which can be REALLY hard to do when feelings of burnout have clouded everything else) I can break through the film of melancholy.  I can see past the frustration, fatigue and dread of the everyday.  And I can remember that I have a choice to let those feelings control my life, or I can look at them, accept them, and allow them to dissolve in whatever way they need to.

Burnout isn’t a nice place to be.  But it doesn’t have to be the landing place.

                                                                                                                                            

If you think you might be experiencing burnout, take a look at the following lists.

Signs of burnout can include:

􀂃-Emotions: anger, frustration, depression

􀂃- Impatience

􀂃 -Heightened fatigue

􀂃  -Melancholy

􀂃  -Ambivalence

􀂃  -Lack of interest in things you used to really find intriguing

􀂃  -Short term memory loss

􀂃  -Feelings of dread

􀂃  -Self-medication

􀂃  -Nightmares

􀂃  -Difficulty making decisions

􀂃  -Working at 120% then dropping to nothing

􀂃  -Not caring about something that usually matters a lot

Burnout prevention & self care strategies may include:

􀂃-Know yourself. Figure out what your values are.

􀂃-Create a support system.  And use it.  Ask for help.  Accept help when offered.

􀂃-Maintain a schedule that supports the lifestyle you want to live.

􀂃-Do three things per day that you truly enjoy. Even you only have time for three one minute things.

􀂃-Honor your wellness priorities: Keep running, do your yoga, eat your veggies, get your rest.

􀂃-Stay stimulated with learning. But accept that you don’t have to know everything.

􀂃-Take time off.

􀂃-Get 15 minutes of natural light (more is better) every day.  Even on rainy ones.

We all have a pilot light that doesn’t go out permanantly.  There is light to be found even on the rainy days.

Additional burnout resources are available from these sources:

Compassion Fatigue

Burnout Overview from Mayo Clinic