Monday, June 09, 2008

Preventing burn-out in middle-age

Over the weekend, I held my first retreat for women, Heart's Rest or The Power of Doing Nothing. Well, it's not true that we did 'nothing', but to our crazy minds bent on staying busy and productive at all costs, it may have looked like 'nothing'.

What it was, was rejuvenating, like drinking cool water from a deep well. Part of the pleasure was in stretching into our bodies, giving each other a light massage and doing some partner breathing - all of which slowed us down, brought us into the moment.

The other pleasureable aspect was sharing such fun and creativity with six other women. We danced, we moved, we played, we told our stories. We did some journal writing and collage to express "what we need right now" - I hope it was as much fun for the participants as it was for me. Especially to sit and talk in a circle about our needs, and about the need for balance, and try to discover what nurturing the feminine means.

One thing I want to provide with these mini-retreats is a safe space for women to explore their stuff, whatever that may be. I can see that the format and exercises will change each time, depending on the need or theme of the retreat. But underneath it all is the need for busy women to 'get away', for however short a period, and be alone, or be with other women who need to 'get away'. To acknowledge our need for leaving the house and family behind occasionally and filling our own cup.

When that cup is empty, we are at risk for burn-out, even if we are stay-at-home moms. I have felt close to that dry, arid, empty feeling that precedes the smell of smoke and actual burning out, and I don't want to go there.

I have also seen friends go through burn-out and seen how long it takes them to get their health, both physical and mental, back again. It's like a coiled wire that has lost its spring, no capacity to bounce back, no capacity to respond to normal stresses, always on crisis mode, always feeling overwhelmed.

So to prevent that 'frying' experience, what can we do? Simple things, but so hard to do. Like establishing boundaries - what my limits are, what I can do, and what I cannot do. Knowing when to say no. Knowing when the tired feeling comes and doesn't leave that I need more than a good night's rest. I need to get away, drop all my 'duties', and swim in the fresh waters of "doing nothing" so I can restore my imagination, pleasure in life, and creativity. I need a retreat.

Even if it's something small, treat yourself to a swing in a hammock, or run outside in the rain, do something fun and unexpected, drink your tea with your left hand if you're right handed, hang upside down from a monkey bar, swing, and pump your feet higher and higher, till you can see blue sky.

Let the world glimpse your girlish wildness, (see today's poem Trust, at

and above all, listen in to your body's guidance,

have a great day,


White Rose said...

Hey, I wanted to thank you for stopping by my blog.

And this post is so true, you need to recognize the signs of getting close to that burn out phase and take some time for yourself.

Yay! another Leonard Cohen fan! That makes you A okay in my book!

Claudia said...

Oh my, I certainly could have used a retreat like this right about now in my life. Sounds delicious!

rebecca said...

the hardest thing in life i believe (especially for americans) is to still the mind and accept the art of "doing nothing." yet, it is direly needed in order to repair our bodies and mind which we tax to its limit.

this was a good piece and i believe we should all do this for ourselves....what a way to honor our Selves.

hey and thanks for stopping by my blog! :)


Melissa Garvey said...

Your retreat sounds wonderful! I just thought of a book you may appreciate because of your work/exploration of the sacred feminine. Have you read "Waking the Global Heart" by Anodea Judith? Check it out if you get a chance.

Brian Campbell said...

"that dry, arid, empty feeling that precedes the smell of smoke and actual burning out": I can relate to that. Well put! We all need our retreats: that's what monasteries are for.

Jennifer Boire said...

Thank you all for your comments. It's rare a post garners so many thoughtful responses. I like to think of my home-life as close to an ashram lifestyle - up at 6 am, in bed by 9:30 pm, and working in the kitchen all day long. Mini-retreats are my newest source of renewal, and I should let you know the idea came from Jennifer Louden, at the Writer's Spa I attended in Taos New Mexico.

Jennifer Boire said...

ps White Rose, I'm going to see Leonard Cohen in his home town of MOntreal, June 23. Can't wait - the write-up's of his tour have been fantastic!