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🥱 Entering a season of rest
Letter 159: Saying no, Burning the candle at both ends, John Mayer, Sylvia Plath
Hi, my name is Jen. Welcome aboard my weekly reflection on life and its lessons that I call Letters from a learn-it-all. Among my ranging curiosities, lately, my walnut is obsessing over how to use creative constraints in poetry and what is worth saying yes to. If you are new here or missed last week's edition, you can catch up on the past letters here. If you are reading this for the first time, I’d love you to sign up below to join the other learn-it-alls:
Aloha fellow learn-it-all 👋
Greetings from Oahu, Hawaii
Much of this week’s letter is an update, so the mini-update I usually have up here is superfluous.
tldr; I am alive and enriched but also exhausted.
Now, let’s dive into letter 159 from a learn-it-all. Enjoy!
❓Question to think about
How can I learn to rest better?
Here’s a three-sentence ramble of thoughts to summarize my thinking for how I lived the past 35 days:
I deeply desired to seize the day and go to Southeast Asia to visit my friend and soak in novelty for three weeks. I also knew that the Zen retreat (also known as a sesshin) was a fear I needed to reface after experiencing such a beautiful sense of uncertainty in life during its silence last year. This worked perfectly within the constraints of the pre-determined date of the Honolulu Triathlon to physically challenge me in new ways too.
This adventure of a lifetime started when I stepped foot over a month ago onto my first of twelve flights to Seoul, South Korea on April 17th. I feel mentally, physically, and emotionally depleted from it and also enriched with energy and inspiration.
But, just because all of these dates work out in the calendar doesn’t account for how the experience was going or how I was feeling during the slew of these events taking place.
I want to do *all* the things though that does not mean that I *need* to do all the things.
With that said, I do not regret making these plans, but I also recognize how it truly pressure-tested how I can live and I felt near a boiling point on Friday night exhausted knowing well that in 30 hours I had a triathlon. It’s crazy how much stress the body and mind can take on, but I definitely believe there could be a better way to experience this to enjoy it more.
Lesson: I prefer to take life as it comes rather than planning too far ahead. Anything beyond six months is not even on the horizon for me because I don’t know how I’ll be feeling.
This brings me to the main topic of this letter.
I’m entering a season of rest and attempting to do less.
That means saying no to things.
I am being more selective with my “yes’s”.
So far my season for rest has entailed me:
reinstating my yoga membership
putting my running shoes out of the main room into my closet
buying two Ben & Jerry’s pints for the price of one
listening to John Mayer’s Continuum album
finally opening up Sylvia Plath’s journals that have been on my nightstand for nearly two months
halting my daily watch-wearing (as much)
In my spare time, if you cannot reach me, it’s because I will be under direct orders from my wise Japanese yoga instructor Joji that I need to go float daily for the next two weeks. That is just the beginning. I’ll also be taking up some more sedentary activities, even though that is monumentally challenging living in a place that is like an outdoor Kalahari waterpark for adults with zero lines to go on rides nonstop all day at any time.
I yearn to cultivate a sense of moving trust in myself that I don’t actually need all the numbers and I can reach my movement intentions by noticing my body more often. Hopefully, the watch tan will be no more soon.
So far this season for rest has meant turning down my invitation to canoe surf yesterday. My triceps reminded me of their pain the moment I heard the invitation on the phone. Gosh dangit, it’s so hard to say no.
I selfishly share this intention as a reminder to myself. Historically, I absolutely suck at resting.
Let’s see how this goes!
📜🖋 Poetry Corner
🕯️Burning the candle at both ends
Burning the candle at both ends Why do I do this to myself? I jump with joy saying hell yes! The dates miraculously align But doubt comes as exhaustion follows I enjoy designing my life Around things that I love to do But what about rest? That is needed too. Burning the candle at both ends Will inevitably burn you.
🔍Words to define
Burn the candle at both ends
Someone is exerting themselves to the point that they no longer rest. The over-utilization of resources, to the point of burning them out.
This is, however, somewhat different from the original meaning of the term.
This phrase first appeared in English in the 1730 edition of the Dictionarium Brittanicum:
"The Candle burns at both Ends. Said when Husband and Wife are both Spendthrifts." [a person who spends money in an extravagant, irresponsible way.]
It was, however, derived from the earlier French term of 'brusler la chandelle par les deux bouts', which first appeared in 1611. In the beginning, the phrase referred to the physical act of burning a candle at two ends simultaneously, providing an apt symbol for a waste of resources. Candles were once an expensive resource, so using them in a wasteful manner since it was a marginal utility return was frowned upon.
However, as time went on, the phrase migrated away from its literal meaning and instead became interpreted as "burning the candle at both ends of the day". This meant both staying up late and waking up early in order to accomplish something.
“Seizing the day” (or carpe diem) by maximizing every minute of my day.
The final weeks of each of my college semesters meant that I was following what I wanted rather than what I needed. Sleep would fall to the wayside of importance as the last hoorah sorority socials and exams came.
When I’d drive six hours from Oxford, Ohio to come back to Michigan for rest, I’d be an absolute vegetable sprawled on the couch from burning the candle at both ends for days. In my senior year, I pushed myself to the limits taking 21 credits, applying to jobs, and still participating in clubs to continue networking. I was diagnosed with tonsilitis so many times that I lost track. I don’t have asthma but was given an inhaler for when I had cough attacks that blocked my airway from breathing while I still muscled through to take exams. My first time ever having surgery was getting my tonsils removed the fall after my college graduation in 2018.
The moral of this story is that I’m embarrassed for believing that my mind can overpower my body and I can power through things. I need to learn to rest better. When I zoom out and look at my life, I know it’s important.
An entry from The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath when she was 18 years old in July 1950:
I may never be happy, but tonight I am content. Nothing more than an empty house, the warm hazy weariness from a day spent setting strawbery runners in the sun, a glass of cool sweet milk, and a shallow dish of blueberries bathed in cream. Now I know how people can live without books, without college. When one is tired at the end of a day one must sleep, and at the dawn there are more strawberry runners to set, and so one goes on living, near the earth. At times like this I’d call myself a fool to ask for more…
A five reflections worth sharing:
It saddened me to read on the first page that Plath committed suicide at age 30. It saddened me even further to read this above text about her viewpoint of “may never be happy”. This seems like a statement that is ripe for a confirmation bias that since her attention was fixed on this belief it would manifest in her reality as well.
This entry makes me reflect back on when I lived in a Fijian village for two weeks on Kadavu in 2016. I’d never met more happy individuals who were satisfied with what seemed like nothing, but it was enough for them. Alongside their close-knit community, it was a recipe for all that they needed or wanted so they were simultaneously happy and content. Something I fear is that my ambition isn’t always necessary. Sometimes it makes a bigger headache out of life and I’d be better off sticking to gratitude prompts rather than journaling about the dreams of bigger things. I yearn to be like the Fijians who are happy as a byproduct of their contentedness.
I do not know much about Sylvia Plath. This collection of journals was a completely spontaneous buy from the recommended for me section. I’d heard her name mentioned enough times that it was time to take a deeper dive myself. I feel like a complete imposter most days when it comes to poetry.
Why is it that so many times I feel like art is cherished more after the death of the artist takes place? Is it because the artist’s ego no longer exists so there is less fear in sharing? Or because their journey is over so it’s easier to connect the dots?
As someone who personally journals daily, I feel guilty for reading Plath’s private journal unedited in original form because we never got her consent to do so.
No, I'm not colorblind
I know the world is black and white
I try to keep an open mind
But I just can't sleep on this tonight
Stop this train
I want to get off and go home again
I can't take the speed it's moving in
I know I can't
But honestly, won't someone stop this train?
I feel this way about life often as I notice my anxiety about the passage of time coming on. The seasons are going too fast. I wish I could stop this train but I know I cannot.
🌟 Quote to inspire
“Dare to live the life you have dreamed for yourself. Go forward and make your dreams come true.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson
[added caveat from Jen: even when you’re living your dreams, remember to rest(!)]
📸 Photos of the Week
More to come in weeks ahead reflecting on the experiences above on my second Zen sesshin on Big Island and below in Honolulu on my first Olympic Triathlon.
For now, I am going to rest.
To Charlotte Crowther for being an absolute gem of a human and Rhythm Rhyme Repeat poetry student for sending me Humanity by Ai Weiwei. I do not own many books written by Chinese authors so much appreciated!
To Steven Foster who provoked me enough on a catchup call where he assumed I was a “rest virgin” for doing too many things.
I appreciate you reading this!
Never stop learning 😁
PS - in case you missed last week’s letter 158, it was on 🤫 Silent retreat time
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