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Retreat From the World to Rejuvenate Your Mind

Embrace the stillness between breaths and the freedom to regroup.

Have you ever completed a task or reached a goal, enjoyed the high of reaching your goal…then a week later, found yourself wondering, “What’s next?”

You may have earned a promotion at work, achieved tenure at your institution, won over a major account, finished a degree program, published your work, or finished a poem. Each of us has our own journey of milestones and distance markers that guide our path, but though the terrain may look different, most of us will struggle with that sense of anti-climactic emptiness and a loss of direction at some point or another in life.

There are times in which our lives must lie fallow to allow for a bit of an emotional respite and an opportunity to regroup before even being ready to determine what the next goal might be. Some of us find these “breaks” disconcerting. We may feel as if our lives have come unmoored and adrift. It’s as if the point of very existence has become the need to be in constant movement. Or at least constant communication.

Fifty years ago, people were encouraged to “turn on, tune in, and drop out.” According to Timothy O’Leary, this phrase was describing the experience of letting go of attachment to the material world, recognizing the deep connection between all people, and to turn on the senses (via illicit drugs or other means) that would allow these other two tasks to occur. While this counterculture phrase comes across as a bit “new age-ish,” its actual vintage suggests that in our culture, people have frequently needed encouragement to let go of their grasp on the material world and get in touch with their inner material.

While 50 years later, our New Agers are still trying to encourage the world to slow down, practice meditation, and find stillness, the advances in technology have done as much to “unplug” the “movement to unplug” as there is now pretty much “an app for that,” whether it’s a meditation program, a biofeedback app, or some other “tune in” app that virtually takes away all ownership and responsibility for self-regulation from the self—and places it onto a machine.

What’s our fear of being on the bench for an inning or taking a breather between sets? Some of us might fear that we will be left behind or grow obsolete. Commonly termed the “fear of missing out,” many people feel that if they take time to regroup, revitalize, and re-think things, they may miss some moment or opportunity that might never come around again. Or that they will be seen as “losers” because they didn’t show up at the right event or “the” party. Once upon a time, we relied on the recounting of events by the people who’d been there to fill us in on what we’d missed and was now history colored by the storyteller's memory. Today, SnapChap images and messages can show us exactly who is where and doing what—and may even send us into hyperdrive to throw ourselves into something other than sweats to catch up with the party and the moment we feel that we shouldn't be missing.

Yet there is a reason that there are rests between notes in music, stillness between inhales and exhales, and, often, the calm before the storm. The natural rhythm of growth requires rest before motion and fields are left fallow before they can support further growth. Learning to embrace these moments between in which we turn within can provide you with the necessary resources to embrace the “neither/nor” state of being; the wondering or not-wondering of what is to come next as you digest what has come before.

The fertile pause in which new directions and new dreams can be formulated has been likened to the period in which a butterfly is housed within her chrysalis. Great work and transitions are ongoing, but there is still the mystery of what will emerge and how different the final creature might be from the one that began the journey. Make space to retreat and embrace the uncertainty and possibility in life as you are called to do so…a chrysalis provides the temporary solace needed as new potential begins to crystallize and take shape.

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More from Suzanne Degges-White Ph.D.
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