“Tell me about exhaustion,” I said
“You know that the antidote to exhaustion is not necessarily rest?”
“What is it then?”
“The antidote to exhaustion is wholeheartedness.”
(A conversation quoted in David Whyte’s Crossing the Unknown Sea)
Wholeheartedness. What a beautiful word; I’ve always loved it. It speaks of entering your life with presence and commitment. Of bringing all of yourself to the moment. It’s also a word that challenges me. I am familiar with exhaustion. I sat down this afternoon to do some work, and found myself falling asleep, my head in my arms on the desk. My body and mind wanted to disappear into that netherworld where nothing is expected of me, and I can forget about all the to do lists and responsibilities waiting for my attention.
Our lives are busy. We have so much to do: goals to achieve, relationships to nurture, families to raise, careers to build. It’s not only the world around us that fuels our busyness. We are storytellers, every one of us. We create narratives in our minds, narratives that drive us forward and shape our choices. My head is a place full of competing voices, debating and arguing over how to order my days and weeks. These voices are full of questions: should I write or go and run those errands that have been waiting since Monday? How do I make time for the things that must be done without neglecting to make the most of the precious time I have left with my parents, or the sons who will soon be leaving home? What about my marriage, my community, my church? I struggle to find the clarity necessary for making these decisions, for moving through the hours of the day in a way that aligns with the deep intentions of my heart. I am like a coracle, tossed by the demanding (and sometimes chaotic) currents of my inner and outer worlds. In David Whyte’s Crossing the Unknown Sea, there is a chapter on the need for silence. He says, “we are each surrounded by an enormous silence that can be a blessing and a help to us, a silence in which the skein of reality is knitted and unravelled to be knit again, in which the perspectives of work can be enlarged and enriched. Silence is like a cradle holding our endeavours and our will; a silent spaciousness sustains us in our work and at the same time connects us to larger worlds that, in the busyness of our daily struggle to achieve, we have not yet investigated.” He speaks of the spaces between the notes in a symphony, of their importance, of how without spaces in our work and lives, there is no music. “Constant busyness has no absence in it, no openness to the arrival of any new season, no birdsong at the start of the day.”
So that is what I need, to cultivate the kind of pauses that open me to the movements of truth often buried beneath the surface of all the activity. To hear the “still small voice” that guides me and helps me see more clearly the way ahead. And then, to follow that quiet voice, wherever it leads.