Just breathe: taking time for internal reflection
October 22, 2021
Today, I’m going to try something different: I want to intentionally select a card instead of drawing one from the deck. What came to my mind were two figures of the Major Arcana: The Hermit and The Hanged One.
The Hermit speaks to introspection—going on an inner journey, often by distancing yourself from the external world. I hope—no, I know—that I’m not alone in the fatigue that I’ve been feeling recently. Following fall “break,” rushing through the months until Thanksgiving vacation feels like a marathon, except it’s uphill, at midnight, without water, in the winter. Events are piling up and crashing into each other, and we’re trying to squeeze what little time we have left over for work, socializing, sleep and just being. The turn of the season has also reverberated in a change of our mindsets. The trees are becoming bare, the number you see when you check the weather every morning grows lower every day. What can we turn to? We must turn inward and take time to reflect on what’s important while making time for these things, events, people, activities. It’s only as impossible as we make it. It seems like sometimes we have to choose between equally important things and sometimes, we actually do. It’s not wrong to sacrifice other things and obligations for our own wellbeing. After all, you cannot water a garden if the cup in your hand is empty.
The Hanged One conjures the image of a person tied by their foot hanging peacefully upside down. It speaks of patience, of suspending your current perspective, of waiting. This is a difficult period for most, if not all, of us. Sometimes, the facts cannot become rosier, no matter which pair of glasses you don. In that case, step back entirely. Look at the bigger picture. Know that this period will pass, that patience is essential, and that pain might be inevitable—just like relief. The present is uncomfortable, and as much as we’d like to be able to somehow put down the weight we carry or at least shift it somehow, sometimes we can’t. Sometimes we can only continue to walk forward, even if we’re stumbling on the way there. Sometimes we fall with the weight still on our backs. Sometimes, the only comfort to present suffering is the knowledge that it will be lifted in the future.
Tying these two cards together produces a message of equal parts hurt and hope. At this point in the semester, the very first flares of exhaustion creep in. The degree to which different people feel them differ. But we’re all getting a little tired, and we all have a long way to go. What to do? It’s frustrating knowing that you have to keep moving forward when you’re not at your best, but you don’t have to be at your best all the time. Just keep going as you are. Try to find moments for stillness, for laughter, for being alone, for breathing. Do kind things for yourself in little ways. Don’t stay up that extra hour to study. Get a hot tea and be five minutes late to class.
I want to close with a quote that’s stuck with me ever since I read the book “This Boy’s Life,” a memoir by Tobias Wolff. If you know me personally, you’ve probably heard this before. And even if you don’t, now you have:
“Knowing that everything comes to an end is a gift of experience, a consolation gift for knowing that we ourselves are coming to an end. Before we get it we live in a continuous present, and imagine the future as more of that present. Happiness is endless happiness, innocent of its own sure passing. Pain is endless pain.”
All my love. We will get through this.
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