Earlier this summer, I had covid and slowed to a snail’s pace. Everyday care (like bathing and brushing) took incredible effort. Because I had such little energy, I had to make tough decisions about where to put that energy. In many ways, being sick provided time for review.
That review clarified my commitments, helping me consider if where I’m directing energy is truly where I want to be putting it.
For the most part, I could answer: yes. I am clear about my deepest commitments. The longings that came up during covid called my attention to wanting more walking and writing—both aligned with everyday living for justice. And I had some tough conversations with myself about slowing down even further, prioritizing relationships with myself and the divine, and continuing to unlearn patterns that cause harm. These include patterns of people-pleasing, perfectionism, and over-responsibility (not-right-sized-role)—all related to characteristics of white supremacy culture.
My hope is that I don’t need to get sick to do this sort of review, but I’m also grateful for the review I undertook. In this post, I share what came up for me, which includes getting to know my core priorities and deep longings. What priorities are central to my life? What do I desire in my life? Are my everyday actions in line with my stated commitments? When everything else falls away, what remains?
One central lesson is that slowing down helps with clarifying commitments.
I’m often asked about how we can get to know our commitments, and one way certainly is to notice what is most important when we’re sick. What do we do when our energy is limited? Who do we connect with? What do we miss? How do we feel about ourselves? What do we miss, crave, or deeply long for?
These questions can be clarifying, as they help us to know our deepest dedications, our true commitments. And when we’re not sick, these questions can still guide us.
Going forward, I hope to remind myself regularly: slow down to clarify commitments.
When I’m afraid, go slower.
When I’m unsure, go slower.
When I’m acting on autopilot, pause. Breathe. And go slower.
Go at a snail’s pace.
Getting to Know Core Priorities
When I was sickest this summer (with the most limited energy), I noticed that my priorities were largely about physical, emotional, spiritual, and relational care.
Focusing on basic needs when sick, my days were repeating cycles of sleep, drink, and eat. Making tea took enormous effort, so tea moved from an in-the-background support to a core activity of the day. I repeated to myself regularly: “Beth, allow your body time and space to heal.” And I noticed that “time and space to heal” are core priorities that I’d like to honor when I’m not sick as well. Nourishing my body—sleeping, hydrating, and eating vegan—are all commitments. And other commitments benefit from me caring for and nourishing my body as well.
Emotional and Spiritual Care:
Throughout my illness, I prioritized relationships with myself and with the divine. I recognized and worked through fears, meditated, acknowledged resistance to meditation, and (again and especially) slept. Sleep itself involved vivid dreams that led to more meditation, prayer, and internal talk. Instead of externally processing—which I’d typically do through reading, journaling, and talking with others—I valued how internal processing allowed for extended quietude. Again, I noticed that I actually desire more time to be still, be quiet, and be with myself and with the divine. Contemplative practices guide and keep me grounded in commitments.
In times of trouble, I typically show up in an active problem-posing/problem-solving mode. I’ve come to recognize that my preferred “safety shape” is doing (as opposed to waiting or withdrawing or other important modes). This shape is another area of healing for me. It’s also a shape that helps me feel more secure (hence, “safety shape”—language I’ve learned from Mel Meder and generative somatics). So, throughout my covid infection, I sent a number of messages: canceling, rescheduling, and checking in with family, friends, and colleagues. I wanted to come through on commitments (maintaining tithing deposits and coaching relationships, for example) even when pulling back to rest.
As the days went by, I recognized that my doing mode was tied into relational responsibilities and, at times, over-responsibility—a pattern I’m working to unlearn because it also causes harm. The more I asked “who needs what?” the more I could see that I don’t always need to provide an answer. Nor do I always need to ask the question.
This insight came at the time when others were offering me support: lots of understanding and flexibility with rescheduling, help with facilitating the weekly writing group, offers to send food, and meaningful messages checking in. The many forms of support being offered reminded me that receiving is not only part of reciprocal, relational care and mutual aid. It’s also part of genuine relationships that allow for uncertainties and adaptation rather than control.
Being sick offered many lessons on relational care, especially that it involves both/ands. Giving and receiving. Caring for self and caring for others. Seeking solace in safety shapes and not limiting to those shapes. Again, I noticed relational care and relational ethics at the core of my life. And that feels important—as an area for learning and unlearning and showing up within the collective.
I share these types of care—physical, emotional, spiritual, and relational—because when so much fell away through illness, these are what remained. These are what felt most essential as “core priorities.” And these remind me to ask: When everything else falls away, what remains? What is the foundation from which we block-build-be? What are the roots our commitments?
Building Awareness of Longings Because Longings Communicate Commitments
In addition to noticing core priorities, I noticed what I missed while sick. As soon as I felt just a little better, I wanted two things: walking and writing.
Walking and writing. Walking and writing. Walking and writing.
Some years ago, my partner observed that I get grumpy when I haven’t done writing in a few days. And the timeline seems even shorter with walking. Ideally, my body would walk and write daily. When I’m not walking and writing, I get very messy, very quickly.
I could have missed so many things when sick—from baking to being out in the world. What I missed, though, were the two things I’d like to be at the center of my life: walking and writing.
So, as much as I was missing and craving and longing and, yes, emoting in irritable ways, I also felt deeply affirmed by the longings. What an incredible recognition that the life I’m living and the work I feel called to and the book project I can’t keep on the backburner any longer are exactly what my body most wants to do.
Now that I’ve recovered from covid, I’m holding this awareness close and asking myself why I too casually let go of walking and writing time (the answer is surely wound up with unlearning over-responsibility patterns). If awareness is a teacher, it is asking me to act on my longings. To act on my commitments.
Living out commitments doesn’t have to be in a rushed pace, since urgency is another enactment of white supremacy culture. Remembering that the snail’s pace helped me slow down for review, I can move with intentionality and care. I can make tiny changes, shifting habit by habit. And I can move with a sense of purpose, with permission to pursue what I most long for.
So, how does longing show up in your life? What are you craving now, at this moment and in this season? What awarenesses might arise through acknowledging longing? And how can these longings become core priorities and actionable commitments?
There are many ways to slow down and many ways to clarify commitments. What I’m learning, though, is that slowing down can clarify commitments.
For more about clarifying commitments, check out “Commitment Statements: Questions and Answers Pointing Toward Action” and “Breaking Commitments and Recommitting through Mindful Reflection.”
And if you’re also longing to write, the writing group is currently open for new participants. We meet weekly on Fridays 10am-1pm ET, and we are a small group who builds relationships and supports each other around writing.