In 1990, Margie Adam sang I’m in it for the Long Haul and the phrase has stuck with me ever since. At the time, it was a call to continue activism despite decades-slow change and it certainly resonates in these times. In addition, the concept applies to all those things we commit to – and follow through with – over time: taking care of someone with a long-term illness, raising children, taking care of personal health, building a business, learning a new art, working those many years to retirement, living in reduced circumstances, living with loss, surviving the pandemic, figuring out how to use long astrological cycles, and anything else that isn’t one-and-done.
Today, I’m writing about how we manage when we’ve fully committed ourselves for the long haul. How do we sustain the effort and thrive, not to mention survive? I’m not sure I have any easy answers but/and I have some thoughts that might motivate you to find your own answers.
First of all, it’s important to breathe. This might mean finding or creating a safe space or context in which we can breathe without being choked physically or emotionally, before we go back into the fray. It could also mean taking time for a meditative state of noticing the breath, in and out, out and in. And, it always means the opposite of holding our breaths. For a quick jump in the water, it makes sense to hold a breath. To swim a long distance, it’s critical to breathe along the way. Too often, I find myself holding my breath until “it’s over” only to gasp and realize that “it” will last longer than I can hold my breath. A little breathing – which often leads to a sense of serenity, at least for a few minutes – goes a long way to sustaining the long-haul effort.
Then, it seems crucially valuable to find moments of joy in the midst of the unrelenting work. This might mean finding joy in the work itself: something beyond satisfaction in the doing of it; one small chunk of the process that gives us a sense of grace. Or, it could mean surprising ourselves for a minute or two when we see a spectacular flower, hear a piece of music that transports us, or taste an exquisite flavor. A friend passed on the phrase “Joy as an Act of Resistance” spoken by L. Renee at the Juneteenth artist’s roundtable at Indiana University (https://www.facebook.com/AuthoressLRenee/). I don’t know anything else about what she said but the phrase inspired my friend and she passed it on. It seems to me that, if we can find these moments of joy, in the midst of chaos, the chaos recedes, just a little.
And, then there is humor. In these very serious times, what can we laugh about? Often, we’re amused by little and seemingly unimportant things in the midst of the big and important events. There’s often a touch of humor in any situation if we’re willing to see it. Just for a moment.
Yesterday, a doe walked daintily down my gravel path and munched off every day lily blossom (about 12 of them). They were right at the height of her mouth - an all-you-can-eat buffet. When I banged on the window, she just looked at me as if to say “Don’t bother me; can’t you see I’m out for dinner?” Well, I could have cried for the flowers but I just had to laugh.
They say that humor helps us heal. Even if we don't participate in laughter yoga (yes, this is a real thing), we know it's true – just from the relief we feel after a good belly laugh – the kind of laugh that brings tears to our eyes and doubles us over, gasping for breath. This is, of course, different than the humor that maliciously pokes fun at others. No, the humor that really brings relief is the experience of recognizing ourselves, seeing our human fallibility and loving it. The humor that ignites us can just be a play on words or a clever juxtaposition of ideas or images.
Last, but not least (for today), we get through the long-haul by taking vacations – or stay-cations. They could be as short as an hour or a day or as long as a week or more. The important thing is to lay down the load for a little while. We can watch a (funny) movie, take a walk, read a non-intellectual book, play a computer game, or revel in the taste of dark chocolate. Give ourselves some respite. We might remember that we need sleep to re-energize our bodies and minds for the next day’s effort. We could also remind ourselves that we need waking moments of relaxation or pleasure to renew our spirits. After all, we know that when we put “it” on the back burner for a little while, we come back refreshed and surprisingly full of energy, new ideas, and possibilities.
The bottom line is that we are in it for the long haul. Life, that is. Some phases are more intense than others and these are the times to especially remember to fully embrace breathing, joy, humor, and simple pleasures.
*From Margie Adam’s Long Haul: http://www.margieadam.com/discography/another-place/long-haul/
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