I have a co-worker who gets dizzy spells on occasion. Thankfully, she knows the cause. When she’s concentrating hard on something, like reading an important document on the computer, she will unconsciously hold her breath. Only when she starts feeling dizzy does she “wake up” and remind herself to breathe again. Then, voila, the dizziness goes away as oxygen starts flowing back into her system. As much as she knows the cause and the solution, she’ll still end up not breathing if she’s too focused on the task at hand.
This made me think of what often happens to those working overseas. We know we need to have hobbies, fun activities, little joys, and things that give us pleasure sprinkled throughout our lives. It can’t be all work or we will, well, see previous Velvet Ashes posts on burnout. Yet we get going on the work, start concentrating hard on the task at hand, and subconsciously, we stop those peace-filled things. Pretty soon, we feel dizzy and wonder why.
One of the simple things that brings me a lot of joy is plants. For whatever reason, the way I’m wired means I’m immediately calmer if I’m walking in a forest or meadow filled with trees, grasses, and flowers. Gardening soothes me. Botanical gardens are some of my favorite places to visit. I love looking at plants, learning about plants, taking pictures of plants, and planting plants. (I also love eating plants, but that’s a different post.) I managed to find ways to have plants in my college dorm rooms and in every one of the many, many homes we’ve ever had over the years. It makes me smile to have green, growing things around me.
But not that long ago, I was suddenly deprived of plants. We moved to a new city in China full of buildings, concrete, and uneven sidewalk pavers. Not much green to be found in our immediate neighborhood. Things weren’t much better inside our home. Our houseplants had all been given to friends before the move. Things got busy and I simply didn’t buy plants for the new apartment. For the first time in many years there wasn’t a spot of living green in our home. And it stayed that way for a very long time. One of my simple joys had evaporated but I was concentrating so hard on other things that I didn’t notice I was “holding my breath.”
After a while, I realized how down I’d been feeling. Through some reflection, I could point to a few things that contributed to my feeling stuck and depressed. One of them was the lack of plants in our life. As trivial as it may sound, I knew adding plants was an easy way to bring a little bit of pleasure back into my life. I “woke up” and bought a few small potted plants for the balcony. A friend gave me some packets of herb seeds. In a matter of weeks, I had things blooming on one balcony, and sage, thyme, and other fresh herbs sprouting on the other. I felt calmer when I saw my plants growing and sprouting new leaves. My mood was brighter when I could snip fresh herbs for our dinner. Simple pleasure restored. Oxygen was flowing into my system again. I’ve tried to never be plant-less again.
For some reason, overseas life seems to be especially good at squeezing pleasures out of the schedule. Even in the rampant busyness of life in my home country of the U.S., there’s an expectation that you’ll have entertainment and hobbies somewhere in the mix of the packed schedule. Life overseas seems to concentrate more on sacrifice and difficulties and just getting by. There’s no time for hobbies in the crush of important kingdom work.
And yet, there’s no way to survive the crush of important kingdom work without the buffer of pleasures.
We have to find ways to bring things we enjoy into our lives, even if it takes extra creativity to do so. Maybe you can’t get yarn for your knitting hobby, but you can learn local embroidery. Maybe there aren’t any basketball teams for adults to join, but you can learn to play a wicked game of badminton with a group in your neighborhood. You can’t have a proper yard or vegetable garden, but you can have potted herbs on the balcony.
All of these little pleasures keep the oxygen flowing through our system, and ensure we’re thriving even though we’ve got important tasks to do. We can keep concentrating hard, but we also need to remember to breathe.
What are your favorite simple pleasures or things that bring you joy? How have you had to be creative with hobbies in your current location?