I have been a little low in energy recently, a little unwell and generally run down. I’m not someone who gets sick a lot, or gets colds and coughs and viruses very often, but I often find that I am most susceptible to such things when the seasons change and there’s a shift in the general energy of the world around me.
So it has been recently, feeling this way, that I’ve been doing a lot of resting. Honestly, I’ve been pretty lazy. I’ve been spending a lot of time in retreat, thinking about what retreat means and why it is so important to our health.
All of us, each one of, parents or not, lead busy lives. Sometimes, overwhelmingly so. We are always trying to catch up, trying to be organised enough that we don’t miss just one thing on our schedule, falling behind and knocking our carefully planned rotas off balance. Sometimes it feels like we are walking a precarious tightrope where the very thought of taking time out, of being mindful and present, is too much to occupy.
And this is when my body says, Enough. When it demands that I stop and go into retreat, a kind of self-imposed hibernation until I am ready to take stock again, and go just a little slower.
But the idea of going slowly into anything, of resting, is so very at war with the society and culture most of us live within, where we are bombarded with slogans selling us the glory of a fast paced, modern life. Everything accessible. Everything achievable. As long as we keep going.
It’s easy to see why so many people, families especially, have reacted against this way of living and long for a simpler way of life. It’s easy to understand why more and more people are refusing to spend their energies on things that are, essentially, counterproductive.
But at the same time, for most of us, we still have to function within a world that does not value the idea of rest and going slow. Health is not a consideration in most jobs, and certainly not the toll that constant, uninterrupted work can take on your psychological and emotional health.
For our family, we try to do our best to find ways that ease the strain living and working in this society can bring. That means eating as much wholesome, nutritious food as possible. It means valuing rest when rest is needed. It means spending time outside in all seasons where we can feel closer to the elements. Sometimes it means putting on a few episodes of Community rather than finishing that quilt that is half-done and piled up in my craft room.
So lately, when I have been in great need of rest, I have done my best not to feel guilty, which is easier said than done when you have an energetic toddler racing around you. I have tried not to feel too bad when I have opted to put on Marry Poppins so that both Ava and I can curl up under a quilt on the couch. In fact, I have generally embraced my inner slob, telling myself that a few unwashed dishes or a dining room table covered in freshly washed clothes, is not the end of the world,
If we had a cat, and a working fireplace, I imagine it would curl up in front of the warm embers and sleep whenever the day has taken its toll and its bones and muscles are tired. Right now, I need to curl up and do the same (Ava provides a good and constant source of warmth – my little human hot water bottle)
And when I start to feel bad that I’m not going to the park every day, I try to remember that it is not my job to fill up Ava’s days with a constant stream of activities. Like Kim John-Payne says in Simplicity Parenting, sometimes the greatest gift we can give our children is boredom. So we read more, we play more inside, and we paint and watch the rain and sometimes watch a film, and it feels okay, it feels necessary for right now.
The greatest thing about taking refuge in the comforts around you is that it brings focus to the smaller, often unnoticed parts of life that are spectacular in their simplicity. The coolness of bed sheets when you first climb into bed. Heating milk in a pan, sipping a hot chocolate in an armchair by the window.
I find myself exploring spaces inside, changing them around a little until they feel just right. I find myself renewing an interest in my home, taking stock of the details around me and paring away until there is less clutter, more space.
Whatever it takes, when the time to retreat emerges, I make my home into a sanctuary, and surround myself in a fortress of quilts, favourite films and good food, safe in the knowledge that soon I will be ready to emerge again, soon I will have the energy to engage and connect beyond the walls of my house, renewed, restored.
‘Sanctuary is a word which here means a small, safe place in a troubling world. Like an oasis in a vast desert or an island in a stormy sea’
Lemony Snicket, A Series of Unfortunate Events