FLY AWAY! … A Season to Retreat, Reflect and Renew Ourselves

Superman is a figment of our imagination, but even as such – he has his kryptonite. We are all prone to influences that have deleterious effects on us. Our ability to be the dynamic operators we wish to be in our various worlds has its ebbs and flows.

We are, without exception, worn by the various challenges that are ever present in the course of our lives. Those challenges come from within and without. They originate in our own deficiencies as individuals, and they come from the inevitable bruising of lives lived in the real world where things don’t always pan out according to our untested idealisms.

Beyond our desire to rise to every circumstance lies that bothersome reality that we are in fact breakable. We eventually discover, much to our chagrin, that we are vulnerable to the battering that comes our way in the course of the many transactions that we engage and that engage us. It therefore behooves us to periodically pause, and take stock of our need for repair.

Some Indicators of Our Wear and Tear…

That nagging headache. A developing tendency to snap at everyone about  everything. The repeated collisions of our feet and our other body parts with objects that more and more seem to be “in the way”. An inability to focus. Our creeping hypertension. The inability to summon the energy we need to get going at the start of our day. The fact that rest does not come when we lay down to sleep. The unwelcome observation that we are becoming more and more absent in our most intimate relationships. The deficit of joy that many around us now notice, and that we can feel in ourselves.

These are but a few of the indicators that become present in our lives when we are operating on the ragged edges of the wear and tear that is a natural part of being. And while it is natural that living will take its toll on us, continuing to operate in a state of disrepair should never become the norm… as so often it does.

Ignoring the need for personal repair can have disastrous consequences.

In the face of the many demands of life, there are times when we are required to pay attention to the signs and symptoms of developing dysfunctions in ourselves. These dysfunctions have physical, intellectual, and spiritual manifestations. They adversely affect our ability to get up and go. They present as distortions in judgment that render us unable to think straight about the most basic problems we face. Left unattended they cause us to fail in all the relationships essential to maintaining balance and to achieving the success we desire in our world.

To head off the very real breakdown that can result from being worn out, we must heed the squeaky noises coming from our own internal commotion. There comes a season to retreat from the ever-present demands of our lives that eventually wear us down. There comes a time to reflect  on our approach to things, and the results we have been harvesting for ourselves and in our relationships. These are prerequisite steps which must be taken if we are to renew ourselves in ways that will lead to the kind of revitalization that impacts positively on every aspect of our being in the world.

RETREATYou owe yourself a break

For the most part we all live into the realities that we have constructed. The roles and obligations that have come to define who we are in our world are the essential building blocks of that reality. Every single one of these roles serve to give us a reason to wake up and engage the world each day. Our personal and vocational experiences become the vehicles through which we name ourselves. Spouse, parent, son, daughter, sister, brother; these are a few of the personal pieces by which we connect to those closest to us. Teacher, lawyer, nurse, political representative, priest, administrator, building engineer… Through these and other such roles we create and execute the vocational part of ourselves.

It is important to contribute in all the ways we can to the world around us, and to the lives of those closest to us. Our roles in the development and maintenance of community should be cultivated and cherished. These roles import needed value to our personal and corporate sense of self. The problem is that sometimes we lose perspective on our place and our value in the scheme of things. That deficit of appropriate perspective leads us to an existential cul de sac in which we come to think and believe that we are indispensable to the operation of the world around us. The untruth of this conclusion aside, the essential tragedy we must confront is one in which we are overwhelmed by our cultivated insecurities to the point of personal dysfunction. It is in fact those insecurities that prevent us from leaving our posts in order to attend to our need of re-creation.

I have heard people express almost as a boast, the fact that they “haven’t taken a vacation in years.” Not good. Not good at all. No one is indispensable. The truth we must all face is that if we were to drop dead this minute, no matter what part we play in our immediate families or in our vocational environment, the world would continue without us. Life would go on in our absence. Without discounting in any way the value we represent, our families and our corporate partners will find a way to continue their operation without us. So… Let us take a moment and take stock of our real place in the scheme of things. We can begin that analysis with a realistic assessment of how faithful we are, and have been, to the business of taking good care of “number one”… Ourselves.

To say that one’s first duty is to preserve one’s self, is to state the most basic of all truths. It is a personal declaration that helps to bring clarity. To live into that clarity is to engage the recognition of our first duty to take care of ourselves. It is in fact from this place of clarity in our experience that we come to realize that we will in fact do unto others as we do to ourselves. Persons who do not truly take care of themselves become incapable of truly taking care of others.

A tired caregiver who for one reason or other refuses to take a needed break is being self-abusive. That person will, as a matter of course, become prone to being abusive to others. The scourge of abuse in the various contexts of vocational life range from the manager who is incapable of empathy, to the nurse or other caregiver who physically assaults vulnerable clients entrusted to their care. And so before we get to the point of diminishing returns, where we are so diminished ourselves that we begin to diminish others… Let us pause for repair. Let us take that needed break.

It is essential that we take time to retreat from our daily grind to a place where we can rest and restore ourselves. A vacation in a place where we can truly empty ourselves of all our usual daily obligations is a splendid idea. A resort in an exotic location is always a nice option, but we should not limit ourselves to the cliched ideas of what it means to take time off.

For some people, rest is doing nothing. It is laying back and being pampered. If that is what you truly need, then so be it. Do that! For others, rest is doing something different… Something that does not have the usual familial or corporate strings attached. Take the opportunity to be charitable through whatever means present themselves. Go to an unfamiliar place and engage in random acts of kindness. We do for ourselves that which we do for others. Take on no obligation. Create no obligation. Help someone in need. Help build or repair a home for a needy family. It can be most gratifying to spend time doing work that builds the lives of others. The sense of fulfillment that comes from this is energizing. It is in this respect that for some people, rest is doing something different.

Whether we resort to a beach somewhere, or spend our essential resources uplifting other lives; time spent away from our usual schedules can do us a world of good. The opportunity we give ourselves to engage in the lives of others in non-obligatory ways can be wonderfully uplifting. Just to get away to places where we can live into the possibilities of being our unscripted selves is in itself therapeutic. To wake up and breathe in the fresh air of a life uncluttered… is really, really nice. That fresh air is so very important for the cultivation of fresh new ways of seeing and feeling and being.

REFLECTCultivate the ability to see yourself in new ways

In the course of our retreat we should set time aside for meaningful reflection. What do you see when you look in the mirror? How do you honestly feel about the visage being reflected? Indulge with me in a non-pornographically naked  moment. Let us take a closer, more intimate look at ourselves. Undress…and turn on the lights. Put your visual aids on…or in. In fact, place another mirror or two at strategic points so that you are able to view parts of you that you can’t see with just a singular looking glass. Look at yourself from every angle possible. Now, be totally and completely honest about the you being reflected. And then go a step further… Allow yourself to be a second person in the room, that same room where you are all alone. In other words, be objective.

As an objective looker I challenge myself to see me as others might.  I give myself a chance to come to understand why someone else might not be comfortable with certain aspects of the me that I present daily. As an honest viewer of myself I might find some aspects of me that I need to fix for my own wellbeing, and for the sake of the health of some of my relationships. Useful reflection is grounded in a raw, uncircumcised honesty. It lays us out in front of ourselves in all our awkward bareness, and presses us to come to terms with the ragged parts of our personhood.

At times we tend to talk about reflection as if it were some kind of esoteric abstraction. In response to that particular approach I would say like Ludwig Wittgenstein, a disciple of Sigmund Freud…  “Don’t think, look!“. The truth is usually right there, unblinkingly staring back at us.

Meaningful reflection is an engagement in a decidedly unflattering evaluation of self that forces to the fore the most authentic and at times unflattering pieces of who we are. It initiates a process of personal distillation that relieves us of the froth that is our superficiality. In meaningful reflection we allow truth to become an ally in opening us up to the possibilities of becoming in accordance with our greatest potential. By truth I mean those transcendent statements that call us to be more than any of the existing estimates of who we are, and who we can become. 

In the course of our lives we are defined by the things we do, and by the things that are done to us. To be defined thus is to be limited accordingly. As a transcendent dynamic, Truth nullifies the limitations that Experience fetters us with. Through meaningful reflection then, we are empowered to make declarations about ourselves that transcend the obvious facts by which we are otherwise limited. This process of empowerment is aided of course by the clarity that is cultivated when our minds and bodies have benefitted from the rest that retreating facilitates.

Renew – Live into the possibilities that a sense of clarity engenders

Ok. So Superman may in fact be a figment of our collective imagination, but that does not mean we should not believe in our ability to fly. It should not thwart our aspiration to rise above circumstances that are uninspiring and energy-sapping. Deep in the recesses of our minds and in our hearts, we have desired “the wings of a dove” so that we could “fly away, and be at rest”. Ultimately though, it is not escaping that we should be contemplating.

Every situation to which we may flee will have its inherent challenges. Challenges can, and will wear us out if they are allowed to supersede our need for periodic re-creation. What we truly need is to work on the capacity to overcome each challenge that comes our way. That capacity lies deep within each one of us, waiting to be activated.

We should at times “fly away”… Retreat that is. Our goal in doing so should be to find a time and place for the kind of rest and reflection that repairs our physicality, clears the cobwebs in our mentality, and potentiates our spirituality.

There is a certain reinvigoration that comes when we are rested and clear about the road ahead. Clarity endows us with a real desire… a need… to do what is necessary to strengthen our core in preparation for the challenges of living into the new possibilities of a wonderfully reimagined life. Let us carve out an appropriate space, and allow ample time for that reinvigoration to occur.

One Love!

R. A. G.
Roy Alexander Graham
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