Letting Our Souls Catch Up

There is a story told about an anthropologist who spent some months studying an African tribe, observing and participating in their tribal customs. Being a nomadic people, the tribe would travel for endless days across the African landscape only to suddenly stop and make camp without any apparent reason. Following a few days of lounging around camp, the anthropologist would awaken to find the tribe commencing their laborious trek across the land. At some later point, but following no particular pattern that the researcher could discern, the tribe would once again cease their progress and become motionless for hours, days, sometimes even weeks. The anthropologist objectively observed this curious behavior for several months without successfully deciphering any rhythmed pattern of traveling, stopping, traveling, stopping, etc. Stymied for understanding, he approached the leader of the tribe to shed light upon this fascinating tribal behavior. When asked why the tribe would travel for several days and then stop for no apparent reason, the leader replied in a matter-of-fact tone, "It's quite simple. Our bodies and our souls travel at different speeds. We must stop on occasion to allow our souls to catch up with our bodies."

We love the vision this evokes: pausing the pressed pace of our bodies in order to allow our souls to catch up. We so often hear from our clients how hectic their lives are; how there is not enough time in the day to get it all done; how, as a result, they feel they don't have any time to commit to growing a relationship with themselves, much less with another because of all the other responsibilities that require their concentrated activity. It is true that we live in a society in which we are expected to fill every last minute of our day with productivity in order to protect (and project?) our sense of self worth. As a result we risk "producing" ourselves into a state of ill health, both physically and emotionally. When we over-extend ourselves in this way our intimate relationship with ourself (the housing of our soul) and the others we claim to hold important to us, begins to atrophy due to a lack of nurturance. Paradoxically our ability to "produce" is compromised because we have reached a point of depletion.

For many, adding the responsibilities and obligations of the holiday season only adds to the hectic pace they are already living. Now they must find the time (and energy) to shop for gifts, prepare huge meals, host obligatory parties, and perhaps travel many miles in order to "produce" a successful holiday experience. The familial expectations that can accompany the holiday season are often overwhelming. Decisions must be made regarding which family we are to be with on Christmas morning/day? Which family gets to be "blessed" by our presence on Christmas Eve or New Years? How do we find the courage to inform expectant family members that we must alter the traditional schedule due to a circumstance beyond our control?

"So," you may ask, "how in the world do we stop in order to allow our souls to catch up with our bodies when we can't even stop long to catch our own breath or to simply hug our loved ones?" Our matter-of-fact answer is a bit like the tribal chief's: "It's quite simple. We simply must stop and so we choose to do so, reminding ourselves of two powerful truths: the Earth will indeed keep spinning and nobody will actually die due to our alteration of the rhythm! The functioning of the world does not rest on our shoulders, no matter how much it may feel our reality.

May we challenge ourselves this holiday season to simply stop on occasion, and allow our soul to catch up with our body. We will be healthier for it, as will our relationships with friends, family, and co-workers. Maybe this tribal custom would make a powerful New Year's Resolution for us all: we will pause the pressing rhythm of life around us, so that our souls may be given the time and space to catch up. A faint, breathless whisper cries out, "Hey, wait for Me!"