- When was the last time you slowed down long enough to watch the sun go down?
- When have you taken time recently to meditate, notice your breathing, and fully relax?
For it is life, the very life of life.
In its brief course
Lie all the verities and realities of your existence:
The bliss of growth;
The glory of action;
The splendor of achievement;
For yesterday is but a dream,
And tomorrow is only a vision;
But today, well lived, makes every yesterday
a dream of happiness,
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.
My good friend, Fr. Max Oliva, a Jesuit priest and author of several books, has an MBA and leads retreats and ethics seminars for parishes and business professionals across the USA and Canada. Years ago, I asked him “How do you renew yourself in the midst of such busy and full life?”
“To be productive, I regularly make time – usually a full day a week – to be unproductive.” He had good friends who were ranchers and he would spend a day a week just hanging out at the ranch – being unproductive.
In today’s world, with its relentless emphasis on success, achievement, and productivity, we have lost, in the words of Wayne Muller in his book, Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight In Our Busy Lives, “the necessary rhythm of life, the balance of work and rest. Constantly striving, we feel exhausted and deprived in the midst of great abundance. We long for time with friends and family, we long for a moment to ourselves.”
All of life is a fluctuation between effort and rest. We need both – every day and every week. Effort is not truly effective unless we have properly prepared for it by resting and renewing. Times when we are unproductive to renew and rejuvenate, and away from the tyranny of the urgency, gives us the power necessary to make our best effort. It is not good to rest too long and it is not good to carry on great effort too long without rest. The successful, productive life is a proper balance between the two.
We all require Sabbaths in some form. What are you doing to rest, to renew, to be unproductive?
Labor Day, Wikipedia tells us, “is a public holiday celebrated on the first Monday in September… It honors the American labor movement; the contributions that workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of the country… In Canada, Canadian trade unions are proud that this holiday was inspired by their efforts to improve workers’ rights.”
This Labor Day, I have put some reflection into the meaning of work in one’s life and how important work is to the soul. As Thomas Aquinas, the thirteenth-century theologian, wrote, “To live well is to work well…”
There is a difference between a “job” and “work.” We may be forced to take a minimum wage job to pay the bills, but work is something else. Work comes from inside and is an expression of our soul. Work is what puts us in touch with others. Work is about contributing, being of service to the community. Work is creative. Work is about making the world a better place by the expression of our unique talents.
“Work,” writes Matthew Fox in The Reinvention of Work, “touches life itself. Good living and good working go together. Life and livelihood ought not to be separated but to flow from the same source, for both life and livelihood are about Spirit. Spirit means life, and both life and livelihood are about living in depth, living with meaning, purpose, joy, and a sense of contribution to the greater community… bringing life and livelihood back together.”
A stay-at-home mother with six children told me the other day that with her children returning to school, she felt a sense of emptiness, like her role as a mother didn’t have much value. I explained to her that the value in her work is not expressed in monetary terms. Indeed, much work in our culture is not paid at all. Perhaps even the most important work in our society is the work we don’t get paid for. For example, raising children, cooking meals, organizing youth activities, singing in a choir, cleaning up one’s neighborhood, tending a garden, planting a tree, volunteering in a community, mentoring a university student. Matthew Fox asks the question: How might these examples of good work be rewarded so that they are counted in our understanding of the gross national product (GNP)? For indeed, this kind of work – the kind we often don’t get paid for – is where true value lies.
I once heard an unemployed man say, “I’m only unemployed between 9-5.” Our lives are bigger than our jobs we get paid for. On this Labor Day weekend, I hope you will take a little time to reflect on some important questions:
- What is your real work?
- Where do you find meaning and significance and purpose in your contribution to the community and world around you?
- Can you bring more of your “real work” to your “paid work” – your job?
- For those of you who have employees, can you help them to find more of their real work in their jobs? You won’t have to motivate anyone once you find their real work.
Do you care enough to find out about the real work of the people around you? There’s nothing wrong with not getting paid to do your real work. At minimum we can be grateful for a job that enables us to do our real work at home.
We may not have a job. We may be retired. We may be unemployed. We may have a job that we don’t like. Or we may have a job where we get paid to do our real work. But we all have to work. Finding our real work is what makes life worth living.
When my father, who was once a nationally ranked gymnast, coached me in high school track, his approach to training came from University of Oregon’s track coach Bill Bowerman. The legendary running coach, Arthur Lydiard, who presided over New Zealand’s golden era in world track and field during the 1960s, had mentored Bowerman. He introduced Bowerman to a philosophy of training that revolutionized American track and field in the 1960s.
Bowerman’s approach to training had been the same as virtually every other American long-distance running coach: push hard until you are exhausted. This philosophy was based on the belief that the harder you trained, the more progress you made. The results revealed severe limitations. Prior to Bowerman, Americans were virtually absent in the world long-distance running realm.
After returning from New Zealand, Bowerman began exhorting Oregon runners to finish workouts exhilarated, not exhausted… His credo was that it was better to underdo than overdo. He had learned from Lydiard that rest was as important as work to keep a runner from illness or injury. Bowerman realized that his runners’ training was more effective when they allowed ample rest between hard workouts. He trained and raced his men to seasonal peaks but would back off before they crashed. To incoming freshman he preached: Stress, recover, improve…
While commonly accepted now, the idea of alternating hard days in distance running training, was revolutionary at the time. And it didn’t go down so well with the coaching community. When Bowerman first articulated the hard-easy method, he was widely despised for it. Kenny Moore, one of his legendary athletes and author of Bowerman and the Men of Oregon, wrote, “The anthem of most coaches then was ‘the more you put in, the more you get out.’ In response to Bowerman, coaches were morally affronted. His easy days were derided… called coddling.” Moore adds parenthetically, “His common sense approach is still resisted by a minority, and probably always will be.”
Bowerman’s response to his critics was to “crush their runners with his.” His “Men of Oregon” won four NCAA team titles. Over his legendary career, he trained thirty-one Olympic athletes, fifty-one All-Americans, twelve American record-holders, twenty-two NCAA champions and sixteen sub-four minute milers. During his twenty-four years as coach at the University of Oregon, the Ducks track and field team had a winning season every season but one, attained four NCAA titles, and finished in the top ten in the nation sixteen times.
Bowerman also developed the first lightweight outsole that would revolutionize the running shoe. With some latex, leather, glue and his wife’s waffle iron, he created a durable, stable and light Waffle sole that set a new standard for shoe performance and helped him co-found the Nike Corporation. My dad bought me a pair of those original waffle running shoes. It was an amazing shoe at the time. Bowerman also ignited the jogging boom in America. How that happened is another great story.
Since Bowerman’s success days at the University of Oregon, the physiological foundation for the “hard/easy” system has been validated. In short, physiology has verified what Bowerman learned and applied. The trick is first to provide enough but not too much stress, and second, to allow enough recovery to replenish energy stores, heal and adapt.
As in the outdated “no rest system” for training distance runners, I wonder if we aren’t living our lives these days with an outdated belief that doesn’t take into consideration the importance of rest and renewal. In today’s world, with its unyielding emphasis on success, productivity, and efficiency, we have lost the rhythm of balancing between effort and recovery. Constantly striving, I see so many people exhausted and deprived in the midst of great abundance. How many of us long for time with friends, family, important relationships, even just a moment to ourselves, as we constantly look down at our devices and strive to achieve more? We now find ourselves compulsively checking for messages from work while in the midst of our vacations and times when we need to be connected to who and what really matters.
My challenge for you is to create some structured time over the summer to rest, attend to what is important to you, and make room for whatever you would call renewal. Whether it’s a two-week break, a one unproductive renewal day per week, or an hour a day to just to rest, take the time to simply walk in nature, spend some time hanging with kids, or sit and read a novel. Carve out some time to rest your body and mind, restore your creativity, and regain your natural state of inner peace and well-being.
We are clever people, efficient and high-powered, but in our fervor to get things done we are forgetting the simple art of living. Let us resolve that we will begin today to take a little time to relax, to be idle, to go more slowly and be more attentive to the world around us. Let us take time to be still, to be present, to notice the beauty in this world, to watch the sun go down behind the hill.
Renewal and relaxation aren’t a luxury. They, along with hard work, are a necessity to a life well lived.
Bill Bowerman knew the importance of rest in training Olympic athletes. We can all learn from the legacy he left us.