Jan. 13, 2011, Vol. 9 Issue 1
Nearly two weeks into the the new year, and tarnish is already darkening the shiney 2011 calendar. Last year it was the Haiti earthquake. This year it’s the Tucson shootings. These are tragic for our collective human consciousness. Perhaps it is something more personal for you. So much for having your best year yet — that phrase dangled tantalizingly in front of us as we evaluate last year’s disappointments and grasp for the brass ring of fresh new turf in the new year. As I grow older (and wiser — maybe), I think it is more important to realize that life is more like a roller coaster of up’s and down’s to be dealt with day to day than a clean yearly slate. Not that we shouldn’t have hopes and dreams — we need those to move us forward. Yet life happens and that’s exactly what happened to our author and speaker Joan Borysenko last year.
As I was reading this story she sent earlier this week in an email introducing her newest book, Fried: Why You Burn Out and How to Revive, I thought it was the perfect story to share with you as we move forward in this new year. It’s a tale of learning how to see with new eyes, of a moment of grace that changed her perception — that miracle of seeing the world differently that is the essential gift of revival. And revival is something we need to know how to do all of the time.
Fried: Lessons From the Fire
by Joan Borysenko
Life really does have an uncanny way of imitating art.
It was Labor Day of 2010. I’d just finished penning the final revisions to my latest book Fried: Why You Burn Out and How to Revive. My husband Gordon and I returned from an early morning hike in the front range of the Rockies where we live and spotted smoke down in the gulch below the house. Within minutes there were flames. Hastily packing up treasured possessions (pictures, family heirlooms, computers, my flannel nighty and Uggs), we loaded up Sophie the Aussie and our poodle puppy Milo.
A hundred foot wall of flames raced up the gulch as we said goodbye to our home. The heat was intense and the roar of the conflagration terrifying. We were witnessing the worst wildfire in Colorado history. It burned for almost a week and incinerated 169 homes and more than 7500 acres of pristine beauty. A holocaust of trees and burned out foundations remained as a testament to life’s impermanence.
We took refuge with friends in Boulder for the first weeks of an exile that lasted for nearly two months. It was several days before we discovered that many of our neighbors’ homes had burned down, but that our brave local fire fighters had managed, against all odds, to save our own. We lost an outbuilding, part of a deck, and most of our view, but the house remained, standing proud in the earthly equivalent of a lunar landscape.
At first we grieved its salvation. We didn’t want to remain in an area where the magnificent view of lush mountain ridges had been reduced to a graveyard of snags—blackened skeletons of trees left standing like rows of devil’s toothpicks. And so many neighbors had lost everything.
But in the months that have followed the fire, we began to see with new eyes, to look beyond what was to what is and what can be. That, it turns out, is the same skill set that brings you back to life when personal energy and will are sapped through emotional burnout and you need to remake your life and rekindle your life-force.
Berkeley psychologist Christina Maslach’s inventory of the syndrome consists of three scales that measure emotional exhaustion; loss of empathy (we healthcare providers experience that as compassion fatigue); and loss of confidence and competence.
Burnout is, at its heart, a loss of self and connection to life. Your ability to be present, your creativity, compassion, and humanity simply go missing. It’s like some one has stretched a sheet of plastic wrap over the world, sealing away the juice. Life seems parched, dry, and without possibility. Sound like depression? While there are a dozen stages to burnout—beginning with zealous overwork and culminating with emotional and physical collapse—the latter stages do mimic depression. But antidepressants won’t help. You need to change your course drastically and revive the aliveness, curiosity, joy, and pleasure that make life at its best an exciting adventure.
Get thee to a nunnery, a cabin the woods, a place apart to reflect. What gives you life? Where have the fun and joy gone? When did work eat your lunch and making a living eclipse living a life? Where do you betray yourself and say yes when you really mean no? How did you get into a rut from which escape seems impossible? What do you ache for?
Fried the book provides an invitation to dwell in these questions and make life-giving choices. Fried the fire provided me with new insight about reviving curiosity and seeing with new eyes.
Our neighbor Dave is a wildlife biologist. He’s also a volunteer firefighter. Over the years he’s done a lot of mitigation work, thinning the forest below our homes, and low-limbing trees to prevent the spread of fire. But love of beauty informs his vision as much as necessity.
After the fire we spoke about restoring the land. Which trees are hazards or eyesores that need to be cut down? Which ones might still revive in the spring? Clear cutting our many acres of contiguous land would be an aesthetic disaster. So what about leaving some of the big burned grandfather trees, noble black giants silhouetted against the sky, for wildlife habitat?
It will be early summer before the landscape reveals itself, and trees with life still in them put out fresh growth. But the question of where life remains, and how best to showcase it, is instructing me in the art of seeing. Rather than lamenting what’s dead and fixating on the loss, I’m more curious about what lives and how to encourage it.
As a result I’m seeing my own life more clearly as a landscape of emergent possibility. What to thin and what to encourage are coming into clearer view. The juice, the joy, the pleasure of this exploration is not in the end product of what I might create but in the very act of creativity itself. We humans are born artists, and when burnout wipes the canvas clean, it is an invitation to pick through the ashes and create fresh beauty from what remains.
To order the book, and free gifts, go to Hay House. I’ve always enjoyed Joan’s books and her soothing voice on recordings. When I participated in a weekend seminar with her a few years ago, I was impressed by her warm, genuine personality, as well as her depth of knowledge and engaging presentation style. She’s the real deal.
To learn more about Joan’s books and programs, visit our website or give me a call at 503-699-5031
On the Rink . . . and the Trail Again
Speaking of Colorado (and revival), I just returned from Fraser, CO, where the temperatures were crisp and the landscape snowy white — though the locals wanted lots more white stuff for skiing. My husband and I visited his daughter, son-in-law, and our granddaughters during the week between Christmas and New Year’s. I’m proud to say that I rose to challenge of ice skating!!! That is most certainly a revival from the days of crippling knee pain. Now, clearly, I admit, I would not have been out there without the urging of Gigi, 11, and Hope, 9 — nothing like a couple of kids to help me revive my childhood love of skating. Donning the rental skates while questioning my sanity, I approached the rink carefully, but after a couple of tentative, wall-hugging times around the rink, I let go and let myself skate! Ahhhhhh . . . I can do this. This was clearly a case of my strong will — of wanting to be a participant, rather than a spectator. And in fact, I went a second time! We also went cross country skiing, my first time since the knee replacements, and since my husband’s hip replacement. I didn’t have nearly the trepidation about that. Just strapped them on, and prayed I didn’t fall, as getting up from falling seemed the bigger deal (it is!). I tell you this to give hope to anyone struggling with a debilitating mobility problem. I remember being jealous of people walking their dogs, and look at me now . . . You can do it , too.
So, here’s to your ability to be in your life realistically, and to revive from burnout and any of life’s challenges. Until next time, take care of yourself for your well being and those you love.
PLEASE NOTE: The information shared in this e-news is designed to help you make informed decisions about speakers and the programs they offer. It is not intended as a substitute for any treatment prescribed by a doctor. If you suspect you have a medical problem, seek competent medical help.