Last weekend, my friends and I went camping in the Catskill mountains. We made the plan nearly 3 months in advance when my life was sailing pretty smoothly, but a few days before the trip, I panicked. A lot had suddenly fallen on my plate. I now had an important job interview coming up, requiring a ton of preparation. Moreover, I had been away the week before, so I had fallen behind on things that needed to get done at home. I spent a few days working through the night trying to get as much done as possible. Nevertheless, the day before the trip, as I put together my mighty “to-do” list, the prospect of vacation seemed more burdensome than liberating.
I came about an inch away from backing out last minute, but out of respect for my friends and the desire to be someone who followed through on my word, I stuck to the plan (and secretly packed my computer).
Our first night there, we spent almost an hour lighting our campfire. It had been a long time since any of us had started a fire from scratch, and we had lost touch with the technique. I kindled a flame a few times, using twigs and dry leaves, but in my haste, I added too much too soon. After several harried attempts, I tamed the technique: Start with loose piles of tinder, kindling, paper, and dry leaves. Allow time for the fire to breathe and gain strength. Slowly, begin adding larger firewood, but be careful to leave space for air to flow through and feed the fire.
Finally, a roaring, dancing, glorious fire appeared. My friends and I were mesmerized by the glow. In this hypnotic state, I took a moment to consider the process of the fire’s creation. The key ingredient that I had forgotten the first few times was space. Loading fuel to a fire is important, but it’s the space that lets it breathe and become functional, maybe even magnificent.Could there be a life lesson here? Do I have a tendency to add too much too quickly, overlooking the space I need to breathe?
I noticed that in this moment, after a long day of laughing and hiking with friends, that our homemade fire was fueling feelings of confidence and calm that I hadn’t felt all week. I thought about the upcoming job interview. “I’ve got this,” said a strong, wise voice from inside that I hadn’t heard in a few months.
Do you often find yourself in the “I’m so busy” trap? Have you too often experienced the fallout of having crammed too much into your already crowded calendar? What would happen if you slowed down, rather than sped up, and gave yourself some breathing space?
I know it’s not always possible, but I have come to believe that it’s always beneficial. When we create breathing space, we ignite a fire within that feeds the soul and fuels us with vitality to keep our commitments without the compulsion of piling on so much stuff that it smothers our flame.