The road has become a great teacher of mine. My road tripping over the past two years has brought me many profound lessons. These lessons come in many forms.
They may be personal epiphanies that come from being lost in meditative thought during hours of driving through the countryside.
They may come from meeting people like Leland Duff, the elderly Oklahoma man who told me, while the remains of his home were smoldering behind him, “Bad stuff happens…and then it gits better.”
More often than not, the lessons come from Yoda, my furry little sidekick. This time Yoda’s wisdom manifested itself physically – for us both.
I spent August in Wisconsin at my parents’ lake house. My dad flew to Austin and helped me drive to Wisconsin during the first week of August, and then Yoda and I made the drive back alone to Austin over a four day period a week ago. After both road trips, I was hit with an intense exhaustion. My Type A, overachieving personality is not as intense as it was before I embarked on my Seeking Shama journey two years ago. However long standing habits are hard to break.
Although I’m no longer working insane hours at an office all day, I’m still trying to master the art of downtime. It makes me uncomfortable, feeling guilty that I’m not doing something productive. So when this intense post road trip exhaustion hit, initially I tried to power through it. I’d sit at my computer and will myself to write. I’d go stand and look at my parents’ kayak, wondering why I didn’t have the energy to pick it up and put it in the water. I’d start to mentally plan an ambitious menu to cook for dinner, only to decide I liked my dad’s idea of fresh sweet corn and brats on the grill better. Eventually I surrendered to the exhaustion. I let myself sleep late and lounge around all day reading a novel (I read 10 novels during the month I was there). If I made it into the water, it was only to float in a chair and not to swim. It took about 4 days to feel back to normal, yet all the while, instead of fully enjoying my downtime, I mentally berated myself for not “working.”
A week into our stay in Wisconsin, Yoda developed a severe limp. He was shaking in pain and it about ripped my heart out to see him suffering. I found a local vet who took x-rays and diagnosed Yoda with a carpal sprain, likely caused by his new experience of running up and down stairs in my parents’ house. The prescription was 10 days of complete rest. Doctor’s orders: no walks, minimal use of the stairs, no play with toys.
The vet said, “Yoda needs complete rest in order for his body to recover. After 10 days he’ll be as good as new.”
He was right, 10 days later Yoda was back to normal. As I watched him healing, it occurred to me that I rarely take days of complete rest. Even my vacations are active ones – I’ve never taken a week to simply hang on a beach. My weekends are spent writing, swimming, hiking, rowing and meeting up with friends. Although I’m no longer juggling regular life with the unconscionable stress that my previous career demanded, rarely do I take a day to just lay on the sofa and read. Yet as Yoda demonstrated, down time is important to process, integrate and heal our minds and bodies.
So after our four day drive back to Austin, I allowed myself three full days of complete rest. Like Yoda, I didn’t go on long walks and I didn’t play with toys. Instead, I smacked down the guilty thoughts as they arose, and luxuriated in lounging around reading and watching movies. On the fourth morning home, after a full eight hours of sleep, my eyes snapped open and I felt ready to tackle the world with a sparkly new energy. In fact, I’m pretty convinced I was more productive in that fourth day alone than I would have been had I tried to work during those collective previous three days. I’m proud of myself for resting.
This latest lesson of the road has convinced me that Master Yoda is indeed the wisest being in the Universe. I should know, he teaches me every day.
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