Burnout and diving under the wave.

I’ve taken “days off” from some of my daily routine activities in the name of attempting to do an intelligent emotional aikido move that I’d call “diving under the wave”.

Some sensation of lowness, slowness and heaviness hit me like a massive wave hits a beach, resulting in some disintegration as well, and I decided not just to go limp and let it whirl me around for a short while (in my previous post), but as soon as I regained some semi-composure, I decided to dive under the wave by getting closer to the ground than it is.

My algorithm for this … it’s more a metaphor, quite a bodily one, as in dance and the rudimentary martial arts education that I have, grounding and going low, close to the ground is one of the basic safety (and mobility) rules. When I think about it, the same goes for ice or inline skating, for me. Being close to the ground, on bent legs, centre of gravity low and upper body in a posture in which a fall will be caught comfortably – in which I could almost deliberately fall and do that with fun and softly (that’s what I did all the time when learning to skate and ski … I started with just falling a lot and softly, then daring to to lift higher and bigger).

In terms of emotions and body-budget (a term borrowed from recent reading of Lisa Feldman Barrett’s “How emotions are made”), if – like me – you’ve lived in the clouds for years or decades, it can be hard to figure out where the “ground” is in the first place.

Where’s that level where you can just, kind of, rest – do nothing special, or be quite clumsy and lazy, and not hurt yourself, and relax there for a really long time without getting depleted? Perhaps, what’s the “resting state”?

May sound like a stupid question, but I know for sure that there are people who don’t know. Don’t know what the body and the emotions should feel like at rest. I had periods when I really didn’t know, and over time I also discovered new and deeper levels of bodily and mental rest and safety than I’d known before.

I guess you could call all this the “yin” aspect (vague), the dark, quiet, and pretty undervalued aspect of activity. It’s totally necessary and kind of life-saving (at the very least, health and sanity maintaining) though. I’ve learnt in the last years that going very low is a very, very important skill to have, and it can be hard to acquire, at least for a perfectionistic Westerner taught that the body is basically there to be pushed, too dumb to have anything intelligent to say concerning it’s legitimate needs, preferences, limits – respecting those, however, is a precondition for balanced (and better) functioning.

I actually hate the word “functioning”. Let’s say, “living”.

The fact that “functioning” is a common phrase and came to mind … speaks my point I think (that our bodies and ourselves are regarded as dumb machines that can be given commands at will, without compassion, and have nothing to offer in return).

Makes me think of … that N. was right once again. It annoys me when N. is right. We were jogging for fun along some mystical river. I pushed myself to hold the speed, in part out of pride, in part out of pure habit – that’s how you “run”. You just push your body to do it with some level of violence and lack of consideration. N. asked me why I’m doing it if we’re running just for fun, and found it totally pointless. I agree now, years later, but I needed to read some complicated treatise on sports physiology to believe it 😀

… what was my point? Ah, diving under the wave.

So, I’ve tried, when my body obviously goes low, to go even lower. I’m experimenting with it. I don’t know how low I have to go to regain balance and energy, so – just like in ice skating – I’m experimenting with just going to the ground, to, sort of, zero. Dropping without flinching everything that can be dropped (in my current life luckily most things). That includes dropping ambitions, obsessions, projects, compulsions – at cue, as soon as the “wave” registers. Dropping as much of the thinking as possible (Feldman Barrett’s book also gave me a clue as to why it’s so risky to think in low body budget conditions; maybe some comments on this later).

“The ground” is basically rest and following impulses like hunger (incl. for what is supposed to be eaten) and every other possible bodily impulse – immobility, weird movements, sleeping, other strange movements, not eating, … whatever comes up that genuinely comes up from the body. It’s good to include the soul as well – essentially, minimise doing stuff that I don’t feel like.

For example for the last week, for some weird reason, I’ve felt like baking and eating either cookies or bread every day. I’ve never done that before. I don’t know if it’s healthy or there’s a deeper reason, but that seems to be the “ground level” activity for some reason – the activity that wants to be done all the time somehow.

I’ve also backed off from my commitment to daily writing, because I figured it’s not the moment to experiment with doing things that I really, really don’t feel like. I don’t have the energy budget to waste anything on mental-physical nausea and aversion.

I excuse myself for a day or two from things, a bit like a sudden, instantaneous disappearance. A bit like disappearing while my clothes still float for a moment then fall to the ground, empty.

In the past I needed to fight a lot to do that. To drop projects – I would feel guilty, anxious etc. Over the years it seems like one day of complete “ground” (“off” switch) does far less damage to anything than trying to drag things on and them just degenerating over time, until the “off” days come anyways, and typically more of them. If I feel the voltage rising, it’s better to break the circuit early. A bit recklessly.

Of course the best solution would be to be predictive, but that hasn’t been achieved yet in these quarters. Maybe this time-out is a good period to work on it … as I slowly re-boot activities, one by one in small doses, I can notice which ones push the voltage higher. I can notice after which ones I suddenly want to collapse on the couch or ground again. I can notice what I felt just before that.

A painstaking process, on some level – but necessary, I think, to dig out of various low-energy conditions. And I’ve also found it liberating, on another level. Doing less, yet actually experiencing far more – being present to less, as opposed to being absent to a lot of stuff that goes on long after my soul and bodily sensibility has withdrawn from the driver’s (or even passenger’s) seat.

Slow, but perhaps finally real, to some degree.

Being sure that much of what is done has been thoroughly tested for hollowness and is being done for a bunch of solid, inwardly validated and life-sustaining reasons.

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