Against the Grain Part 1: Introduction

“Expectations are resentments waiting to happen.” (Anne Lamott) Follow the Trees Imagine for a moment that you have never seen a crepe myrtle. (See this link if you really haven’t, or if you’re unsure.) Someone tells you that crepe myrtles are these beautiful, graceful, low trees, covered with thick clusters of showy flowers on stems that sort of elegantly bow down in willowy arcs. Sound lovely, don’t they?

Now imagine that you are out walking at the end of November and run into these things: (Image, crepe myrtle in autumn)

If someone tells you that this pile of sticks shooting out of the ground with the dried out brown berries is a crepe myrtle, you might be disappointed.

But it is.

You had an expectation that a crepe myrtle in November would look like a crepe myrtle in July. They aren’t supposed to look like that in autumn. In fact, they need to have this time in the autumn where they shed everything on the outside, so that they can spend the winter growing from the inside.

Mrs. Hick’s 4th Grade Science Class If you shake the dust off of your elementary school science class memories, you might recall that the planet we live on orbits the Sun at a tilt, held in the path by the Sun’s gravitational pull. We experience four different seasons based on our proximity to the sun. The two equinoxes, (Spring or “Vernal” and Autumnal) are the two times of year when all of the imaginary lines that run from the North Pole to the South Pole have pretty much equal exposure to the sun as the planet spins giving us “Equi” (equal,) “Nox” (nights.) It’s a steadier, more temperate time. The two solstices, (Winter and Summer,) are the times when that same tilt puts the spot we live on farthest away from the Sun, (Winter, with the longest nights,) and closest to it, (Summer, with the shortest nights.)

Our “years” are based on those four repeated cycles roughly as follows:

December 21-22:

Winter Solstice March 20-21:
Spring Equinox June 20-22:
(notice it’s longer,) Summer Solstice September 22-23:
Autumnal Equinox

I have no qualms about telling you I paid attention to none of this in Mrs. Hick’s 4th Grade Science class. It was all “Blah blah blah, remember this for the test, blah blah You’ll need to know this one day, blah blah.” I was sure she was lying.

(Sorry again, Mrs. Hicks.)

Crap. She wasn’t lying. Whether we pay attention to it or not, this stuff is affecting us in every sleeping and waking moment. The amount of sunlight we get affects how much Vitamin D we absorb through our skin.Vitamin D affects bone health, brain health, skin health and our susceptibility to certain cancers as well as Multiple Sclerosis. Sunlight also affects the melanin in our skin that provides the building blocks for our melatonin production. Melatonin helps to regulate our sleep cycles.

Beyond that, the amount of sunlight we get affects how warm or cold the ground and the air are, how plants grow, which foods grow when, and, until we started pushing (literally) against the grain with crops, what animals including humans had access to what foods and when. Our foods affect us profoundly. (If you don’t believe me, go on a 24-hour fast and notice what happens with your moods, focus and productivity.)

Humans, with our conquering mindsets, devise artificial ways to try and keep our foods, sleep, schedules, and energy the same all year round. Why? To feed our obsession with “biggerBETTER M O R E!”

Out of Synch We have been so determined to carve our path without regard for the rest of the stuff here on the Earth, that we have become disconnected from our own potential. In the US we scoff at the European norm of taking a month off for “holiday” (vacation,) once a year. “A MONTH?!?!? Are you kidding me!?!? I can barely scratch out two days without my job backing up like a clogged sewer line!”

We also cast aspersions on our cousins to the south who take a “siesta” in the middle of the hot days to nap and reset. We call them lazy. If we aren’t overworking, we are led to believe that we are underperforming.

And yet, we are burning our workforce out left and right. We are well out of balance, and we aren’t actually performing any better than other countries. Luxembourg and Ireland far outstrip the rest of the world on “labor productivity.” I’ve never been to Luxembourg, but I can attest that Ireland clicks along at a much saner, more comfortable pace in terms of work-life balance.

Workers in Ireland typically get a month of paid vacation, in addition to 10 national holidays off each year.Civil Servants in Luxembourg have been legislated 6 paid days off when they get married, varying days for different bereavement situations, days off when their kids get married, they move, their spouse has a kid or if they go into military service.

In contrast, there are no state or federal mandates for time off in the United States. Most employers and the government do offer a certain number of days off, but no one is required to and some don’t. The most hopeful US statistic for time off was an average of 20 days off from private employers earned per year… after 20 years on the job. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the median number of years people in the private sector have worked in the US is 6.8 years. OOf.

We seem to be wrapping our lives around biggerBETTER M O R E only to achieve less and hurt more.

Boxes boxes boxes We demand that our years, our days, our crops, even our time throughout the day conform to evenly spaced, equal-energied boxes. It feels at times as though we are attempting to beat everything external to us into submission. (Is it any wonder that so many of us get stuck in anxiety trying to force external circumstances to conform to our will?)

There is much ridicule in the culture for those who “go off the grid,” those who take more time off then their colleagues, those who create work environments that start later in the day, those who consciously celebrate the equinoxes and solstices, people who homeschool or “unschool,” or find other creative ways to honor a more natural cycle of life. I have to wonder if the ridicule doesn't come out of a low-key jealousy from those who don't have internal permission to do the same.

What sense does it make to demand that we retain the same energy, productivity and approach 24/7/365 when absolutely nothing in the natural world works that way? This is like demanding that a crepe myrtle bloom and bow in the depths of winter the same way it does at the height of summer. Good luck convincing our friend Myrtle.

I think we have forgotten that we are organic beings made of the same substance as the rest, interdependent with the Earth, the things on it, in it and around it. “All things affect all things,” whether or not we notice.

So Let’s Notice In the next three blogs in this series, I intend to look more specifically at how our insistence on going “against the grain” contributes to Seasonal Affective Disorder, sleep disorders, and our challenged ability to trust the important data from our gut brains. There is a work-rest cycle to all things, including human biology and psychology. In each section, I’ll go over ways we might honor that cycle in these three key areas, retaining what’s helpful about our automated lives while still paying attention to our need for both work and rest.

In the meantime, I challenge you to take stock of your choices. Have you been trained to blow past important signals like fatigue, low energy, challenged attention span, hunger, or “gut feelings,” in order to meet a demand for production? There could be any number of reasons for these symptoms, but as you’re considering, don’t forget to ask yourself if you’ve ignored a work-rest cycle in some way. Take whatever you learn with you into the rest of this series to help you put legs on theory and work toward some life-giving changes.

.................................................................................................................................. Does your life feel out of balance?Contact Tiffany today. Let’s see if we can’t figure out what can change to serve you better.