In 2012, I spent a week at Mepkin Abbey, in South Carolina. Mepkin Abby is a Trappist monastery, and they invite folks to come and stay with them as a form of retreat. A friend I really respected did it on the regular, and encouraged me to do it as well.
I really enjoyed my week there. It was lovely, and the campus is beautiful, and it’s right on the Cooper River, where you can sit on the bluff and watch the boats roll by. The campus is filled with Live Oaks that literally drip Spanish Moss, and the silence there is magical, punctuated by the chanting of the monks seven times a day.
You are also invited to eat with the monks, and they have a simple, vegetarian diet. Again, one of the struggles those of us with ADHD have is the inability to create structure, so a simple diet with simple rules appealed to me, and I think there is definitely an ethical argument that can be made for not eating animal flesh. So, when I came back to the “real world”, I decided I would be vegetarian.
I lasted strictly about six weeks, and gave up trying completely within three months. Because it was easy to fail at being vegetarian, and when you have the sort of life I do, where lots of people want to feed you, and a huge part of how you expressed your spirituality involved eating with others, it became super complicated, super-fast. In the end, it just wasn’t sustainable for me at all.
My last few days have been chaotic. I went from having a week in front of me with virtually no outside meetings planned to having my entire week scheduled almost instantly. Which is fine – in the work I do these days organizing Faith Leaders, it is like that sometimes – you are forced to react to something someone else does and then your whole schedule changes.
But what that does mean is that my whole routine is thrown off, and instead of cooking dinner for my family like I do most nights, this week I am eating a lot of sandwiches and take out, and because I am living on the phone when I’m not in front of a Zoom camera or at City Hall, I had to miss going for a swim today.
Most of my career has been filled with reactive crises like this, and in the past, I have often used that as a reason to not prioritize my health, and to not eat well. But these days, as I prioritize my health and try to avoid returning to the burnout that almost took me out, I am seeing things differently.
I want you to pay attention to what I did there – it literally is about seeing things differently – I am looking at things through a different lens, and it has made all the difference in how I view the world in general and my health in particular.
If you get ill and, as a result, don’t take a shower on a given day, you didn’t fail – you just didn’t do something you normally do. You don’t decide that because you failed at cleanliness you will henceforth renounce soap. You don’t decide you will now sleep in a mudhole. The next day, you take a shower again and you are back on track.
And tomorrow, I will be back at the gym. I didn’t fail at being healthy. I didn’t fail at anything. I just didn’t do what I normally do. But tomorrow, I will. Because this way of life is sustainable, and I don’t fail if I don’t do something just one day.
It’s easy to fail at “Being Vegetarian”. Hell, it’s easy to fail at “dieting”. But it’s almost impossible to fail at “focusing on my health”. Saying I am focusing on my health recognizes that it’s about what I do most of the time, not what I do one time, that will make a long term difference to my health and my life.
I tend towards extremism – again, my brain loves simplicity – but I am trying to remind myself these days that even though I can’t give it all I have, if I can give it my 80%, then that’s enough.