It's the end of the school year for parents and nearing the end of spring for everyone. I've heard, "I'm exhausted," uttered from many friends and students in the past two weeks.
I've always seen exhaustion as a symptom of doing too much: over-scheduling, overcommitting, and over-giving beyond what resources of energy, time, and service we truly have to give. I thought exhaustion was simply a state of being, and one we needed to cure by eliminating of the "overs" and pairing our lives down to the essentials.
As it turns out, this strategy not only often fails us, but exacerbates the true source of our exhaustion. Rather than eliminating unnecessary endeavors in our lives, we actually need to add more in more. (Or at least something different.)
Oftentimes, we are exhausted because part of our being has come to maturation and we're not putting that part of ourselves to work in the world. Maybe you've matured past your current living situation and it's time to move out and move on. Maybe you've matured past your current behaviors and it's time to let go of the checking-out in front of the TV or at the bottom of the bottle. Maybe you've matured past your current job and it's time to revisit your role at your company or reinvent your work in the world completely.
Exhaustion is a sign that it may be time for us to move forward, to move on—and, to move quickly.
When he felt most exhausted, David Whyte worked for a giant corporation. His exhaustion stemmed from this place because it was not his true work in the world.
I can relate. I worked for a very well-established, large law firm in Manhattan. I knew that my time there was limited and that I could not sustain that work and lifestyle. But toward the end, I felt the drain on my heart and my cells from the second that I woke up in the morning. The thick layer of dread that held me in my bed as late as humanly possible grew daily. I remember one day I went to lunch with a friend. She looked very concerned, and I wondered what I must look like, to her. She was one of the few people in my life at the time who was supportive of me leaving my law firm and switching to another career. Everyone else felt terrified at the prospect of me taking that leap—as was I.
"The cure for exhaustion is not necessarily rest. The cure for exhaustion is wholeheartedness." – David Whyte
She said to me, "I don't know when you'll quit, but I do know that you cannot stay here for much longer. Everything will suffer."
My exhaustion indicated that I was ready to leave.
Wholeheartedness is radical honesty with yourself about who you are, and what you want.
The cure for exhaustion is wholeheartedness. And we all know that you don't get to choose who, or what, you fall in love with.
Wholeheartedness means that you can wish that you loved where you are in your life—but if you don't, you're honest with yourself that you don't love it. Wholeheartedness looks like radical honesty about what's working in your life, and what's not. Wholeheartedness, ironically, is not a happy ending. Wholeheartedness is feeling what's already been here, waiting for you to hear it's plea: the loneliness, the sadness, the frustration, the resentment, the confusion, the excitement.
And once you hear your whole heart, and allow its full expression into the village that is yourself, this is what David tells us to do: "Let yourself down, however awkwardly, into the waters of the work/life/love that you want for yourself... You have ripened already and you are waiting to be brought in. Your exhaustion is a form of inner fermentation. You are beginning, ever so slowly, to rot on the vine."
Become more wholehearted in your life by answering these four questions:
1. Where are you holding onto the old?
Whether it's a material possession, an outdated identity, or a way of being in our most intimate relationships that's long since served its purpose, we are almost always clinging to the familiar and believing the lie that we can resist the ever-changing frontier of ourselves.
2. Where are you trying to get ahead of yourself?
We cannot get to point D by pretending we are at point C. We can only get to point D by honoring where we are, truly, which is often point A. We learn to crawl before we learn to walk.
3. Where are you not using your true powers?
We all have gifts that make us unique, that make us us. We put those to work in the world and find intimacy, joy, heartbreak, and freedom or we hold them back and find isolation, confusion, heartbreak, and desolation.
4. What is the world asking of you?
Through the people in your life and the opportunities that find you, the world is asking something of you, right now. It may not be precisely what you've dreamed of, and often it's not. But I dare you to say yes.
Move toward your elemental waters. Just as the swan waddles awkwardly on land but glides artfully through water, we fumble and lumber until we hit a pocket of interest that holds something sacred for us. When our dedication toward a higher goal becomes part of the conversation of our lives, we are moving toward our elemental waters, where we belong and were meant to move through.