By Stew Bittman, D.C.
For years, I had an obsessive fear of leaving the office, even for a few minutes. What if somebody actually walked in? Especially in our early days of practice, when 10 folks a day induced feelings of immense pride and overwhelming fatigue, the idea of leaving the office made my knees wobbly. Occasionally, out of sheer boredom, I would muster up the courage to go to the post office, hoping for the temporary salvation of an insurance check, and half-jokingly tell Hillary, "if anyone remotely resembling a patient (we did use that term in those days) comes by, tie them up and brand them!" Naturally, the thot of leaving for an actual vacation was akin to jabbing myself in the eye with a stick: unproductive, painful, and ultimately very easy for me to veto. So I hung out and hung in, and held on tightly to all my stress and frustration with both fists. I don't think it helped the practice, but I did get some strong fists.
Well, the years went by, as they often do, and eventually I sort of swung over to the other side of this imbalance. Workshops, seminars, speaking engagements all over God's creation including five trips to Europe and six missions to Central America, and a few sundry excursions just for the hell of it, have made the past six years or so a blur of check-in counters and frequent flyer miles. It almost reached the rather ridiculous point of my folks wondering who I was and where the relief doctor had gone on vacation! Somewhere in there we came within a hair's breadth of moving to England. Needless to say (though obviously I'm about to say it) this was mostly tremendous fun, but wasn't the healthiest thing for the practice, either. I don't regret one single bag of peanuts (especially the honey roasted ones) of it, though, nor do I regret the earlier state of my heels being nailed to my office carpet. They both have helped me find a balance.
This year, we intended to stick around more, and we have. The practice has responded. I've done about a long weekend every month to speak or attend a workshop or seminar, and I've been having so much fun in Tahoe and in the practice that I didn't think I needed a vacation. We took one anyway: a long weekend at the ocean as a family, without a single iota of practice-related thot or conversation. Four wonderful days of communing with the waves and the birds and the seals and the sand. And I discovered something very important - I needed it!
The sea is much like everything in a life that includes a brain - a paradox. There is a multitude of constant activity: the roiling waves and crashing surf, the wind and ever-changing clouds, the barking of seals and the skittering of sandpipers; a menagerie for the senses. Yet, on the other hand, there is an incredible peace and calm. An overriding feeling that nothing here has really changed for millennia. Even the noise is quiet. Especially when the fog rolls in, spreading its fingers to throttle the neck of the land. Then all edges of perspective, color, even sound, are blurred. And it was against that backdrop of gray and silence that I noticed my emotions and my thots, like the roiling sea, standing in stark contrast. My impatience and my hostilities and my doubts and my judgments were all revealed as if a veil was lifted, and I realized how easy it is to ignore them, to mask them, to bury them, and to allow them to interfere with my maximum expression of love and service.
After a few days, even these impurities that my brain constantly manufactures became blurred with time and exposure to the vastness and eternal beauty of the sea. By the 4th day I felt grounded, connected, and at peace, and I noticed how uptight people were who were just arriving for their vacation. How do I walk around on a day-to-day basis? I returned with a renewed commitment to staying in that grounded space. To doing whatever it takes to rise above the distractions and the lunacies of the world. My mission absolutely requires that. I thot I was already doing enough, but I guess I was wrong. The paradox of the sea reminded me that God was the ultimate paradox: simultaneously running a universe and yet never changing. And, therefore, so am I. I Am that. I can do whatever my mission calls for, and still remain grounded in what is real and never changes - Innate. That's the ultimate balance, and I'm still tiptoeing around it. And even though the balance already exists within me, I think I might have to leave the office once in a while to find it.