A married couple goes to a rabbi. What can I do for you, the rabbi says. We’re having a terrible problem, rabbi, the couple says. We have five children and we all live in a one-room house and we’re driving each other crazy. The rabbi says, move in a sheep. So they move a sheep in to the house. A week later they go see the rabbi and tell him that things are worse than ever, plus there’s a sheep. Move in a cow, the rabbi says. The next week they go to complain once again, because things are so much worse now that there’s a cow. Move in horse, the rabbi says. The next week the couple goes to see the rabbi to tell him that things are the worst they’ve ever been. “You’re ready for the solution,” the rabbi says. “Move the animals out.”*
How many “animals” do we have to add into our lives before we realize it’s too much? How busy do our lives have to get before we’re ready to make changes, before we’re ready to simplify our lifestyle? We just keep packing more and more and more into our days.
Western culture encourages it, as if our quality as a person is measured by how busy we are. I’ve succumbed to it. Chronically saying Yes to more and more projects at work and at home and as a parent, until I had more to do than was humanly possible. I was giving up my sleep in order to get more done. Even then, I was always behind.
Finally, I got cancer. Sleep is the rest-and-repair time for our bodies. Did stress and lack of sleep contribute to my cancer? It certainly didn’t help. Now that I’ve gone through 18 grueling months of cancer treatment, my lifestyle has been stripped down.
I couldn’t do all that other stuff even if I wanted to. I am unable to work. I have to sleep 10-11 hours a night and rest during the day. I make a schedule every week, and in order to recover from cancer treatment, I have to schedule cooking and physical activity and more rest. There are about 6 hours a day, in little pieces, leftover to do everything else. This forces me to prioritize where I put my energy. If I can only get one thing done today, what will I choose? Household or paperwork tasks that suck my energy? Social or writing projects that feed me?
Even if I could do everything that I used to do, I don’t want to anymore. Real Life is too amazing and fleeting to spend it like a mouse on a wheel. The most important things in my life now are quality health and quality relationships. The rest has become background noise.
*as told by Nora Ephron in her book I Feel Bad About My Neck, and Other Thoughts On Being a Woman (Vintage Books, 2008)