The gift of fatigue

After a few weeks of increased energy, my old companion fatigue reappeared yesterday afternoon. With it came the telltale backache—characteristic, for me, of this type of fatigue—that urges me to lie down on the floor on my back and just … rest.

Sometimes these bodily instructions include a little flat-on-my-back yoga. The gentle stretches and twists soften the pain, but they don’t make it go away. For that, I need rest.

Photo: Joseph Renger/Wikimedia Commons

And for rest, I need patience. I can’t force myself to feel better, and then move on to whatever I want to do next. I have to allow my body to feel better on its own schedule.

It’s not a nap; it’s not vegging out. It’s conscious, deliberate rest, in which I must allow both my body and my mind to become still—and to stay still for as long as necessary.

That’s the gift of this kind of fatigue: it helps me surrender.

In “Wild Geese,” the poem that inspired this blog, Mary Oliver writes: “You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” That is the challenge I have set for myself.

The challenge contains multitudes, with implications and complications enough to fill a book. This fatigue-and-backache combination boils the Mary Oliver Challenge down to its simplest essence: lie down on my back and rest—not for a specified time, but until the soft animal of my body tells me, “This is enough. Now I’m ready to love something else.”

This post is not the one I started writing in my head this morning. That idea is itself different from another prospective post I have been thinking about in recent days—one that I started long ago and need to return to. That partly drafted post even predates the last one I published, more than two months ago.

Writing is an essential part of loving what I love. It can also be incredibly hard. The challenge is how to allow and encourage myself with gentleness, without emotional force or violence—the opposite of letting myself love what I love.

I will return to those other ideas. For now, this is enough.

What is the Mary Oliver Challenge? Glad you asked. You can read about it here.

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