I forgot about margin.
At the beginning of the year, I had decided that margin was my theme for the year. I needed to live with more margin, instead of having my days so full of activity that I ran from one obligation to the next without stopping. “At the beginning of the year” makes it seem far away when it was just two months ago. But in less than two months, I had forgotten.
Yesterday I finished a five-day silent meditation retreat. This retreat was virtual, so I spent five days at home, isolated in a twelve-by-twelve foot room each day. I emerged only to cook, eat, go for walks outside, shower, use the bathroom, and go to bed. For five days, I remained in silence while my partner and son went about their daily routine. From 9:30am to 9:30pm each day, we alternated between sitting and walking meditation, mindful eating, and purposeful activity. No texting, no social media, no television, no music, just silence.
It was a horrible time to take a retreat. It was the midterm period, the point where the workload reaches a fever pitch as faculty and students limp toward the end of the academic year. The days before the retreat were frenzied as I tried to make enough progress at home and at work to take the time off. By the start of the retreat, I was physically and mentally exhausted. When the facilitators asked us to reflect on why we were there, my first thought was that I shouldn’t be. What had possessed me to register for five days of meditation during the busiest phase of the academic year?
Then I remembered: it was precisely because it was the busiest phase of the year that I had chosen this particular retreat. I knew that I would be frantic. I knew that the demands coming from students and colleagues would be overwhelming. I knew that my self-care disciplines would be struggling under the weight of an endless to-do list. I knew that there would be too much to do and too many people who needed me to stop.
And I knew that was precisely why I needed to stop: to remind myself once again that I am ultimately indispensable to myself and my family. I needed to withdraw from the activity of the world and behold that world continuing to spin on its axis.
So for five days I remained in silence, in stillness, and in solitude, observing the workings of my own mind and body. And somewhere along the way I remembered my intent to live with margin.