Staring at the Ceiling: the Importance of Downtime

Two days before my first international flight, I broke my foot. Remarkably, it wasn’t the wild dancing in my five inch stilettos, it wasn’t from my dogged determination to channel my inner Cherry Pie on the club’s pole—I broke my foot when I kicked the door frame playing hide-and-seek with my cat. They say when you break a bone, you’ll know it, but this one took me a while. Once I got over the embarrassment and peeled myself off the floor, I washed my face, brushed my teeth, and went to bed. Sure it hurt, but I’d sleep it off. When I realized eight hours of sleep hadn’t given me back the ability to walk like someone who’s practiced the art for 20+ years, I thought maybe it was time to hit the doctor. Turns out, I’d split my second middle phalanx clean in half. I left the country with my foot precariously taped together and hobbled through England on a series of crutches and canes.
Four weeks later, I’d ditched the cane and stubbornly limped up and down the stairs of my third-floor walk-up like nothing had ever happened. In fact, my recheck was a formality: I never anticipated my podiatrist would tell me I should have had the break casted from the beginning, much less that I had damaged another bone from compensating for the better part of a month. Thus began my slow descent into madness as I found myself a club-footed prisoner in my family’s suburban home. When you live in the most notoriously bustling city on the planet, walk several miles daily, and enjoy the freedom of popping out to get whatever you want, whenever you want it, medical orders to stay off your feet in Suburbia, USA is a death sentence of boredom. Worse yet, my parents’ house is a Poké-Wasteland, nary a zubat or ratatta in sight. How was I going to hatch my 10k egg when I couldn’t even walk downstairs to check the mail?
Warstone Cemetery, Birmingham
Over the next few weeks, I plowed through a multitude of books, filled entire notebooks with journalistic psychobabble, and killed more than a couple bottles of wine. I colored my hair and called friends. I played cards and compiled playlists. In a time when other crises would have seen me running around town in an endless parade of distraction, my own physical helplessness had me trapped in far too small a space with my own thoughts. I spent far too much time sobbing into pillows and sleeplessly staring at ceilings. But it wasn’t all a desperate attempt to kill time—I signed up for some classes and meditations at the spiritual center my mother attends, returning sometimes several times a week for courses on crystal healing, astral projection, chromotherapy, mystical-feminine empowerment. In the process, I met several Channels who all had profound messages to pass to me. I’ve been working with tarot cards for over twenty years, but it’s been only recently that I’ve realized my cards have no power of their own—each card I pull means nothing on its own, but instead serves as a meditative tool to focus my attention and direct my intuition. The tarot is a comfortable system for me to work with, but given the practice and confidence, I could just as easily use anything to receive and deliver messages to my clients. With this knowledge behind me as I heard what each of these Channels had to tell me, I decided to explore the practice myself.
What I found was remarkable. It all made sense, and I realized I’d been using bits of the practice in my own life for some time. But most amazing of all was a passage written in one particular book about the importance of downtime. Downtime is imperative to clear the mind, relax the body, and allow ourselves to be open and ready to receive, whether we’re receiving divine wisdom, messages from the other side, or love from ourselves or others. As a Type-A Sagittarius with a streak of Overachieving Virgo Ascendent, my version of downtime is a lunch date with friends, window-shopping before school, outlining new essays, or painting something for a friend. But there’s nothing “down” about any of that. Even commonly-accepted modes of relaxation like Netflix marathons, devouring a novel, or catching up on YouTube subscriptions aren’t really downtime. Many of us haven’t experience true downtime since we were kids—laying in the grass and staring at the sky until we lost track of time, contemplating exactly nothing until we realize we’ve been sitting on the sofa in roughly the same spot for the last three hours. True downtime is literally taking the time to do nothing at all, and our minds and bodies need that.
So much of our self-worth is wrapped up in our productivity and our ability to be of service to others—if you can accomplish more than your coworkers, your friends, your family, then you become more valuable to the collective. But a constant stream of productivity dulls us like scissors: if our mind and body are out of synch, cutting at different speeds and intensities, we no longer function as we should. Everything is just off, whether or not it affects our lives noticeably. Downtime allows us to reset, to realign, making us feel more comfortable within ourselves and leaving us more room to connect to the people and things that matter most to us. It seems counterintuitive to spend those spare moments quietly alone when we want to be closer to the people we care about, but when we use that time to clear away the mental static and emotional haze within ourselves, it leaves more room for healthy, productive relationships.
This realization hit me like the Broadway local at rush hour—all these years, I’ve been struggling to fill every last second of my life with activity. Hustling is a full time job these days, and everyone seems to have at least three major games to play to set them ahead. Competition is a way of life. But there’s a reason we still hear about Aesop’s tortoise and his long-eared running mate: when you take time out to yourself, to contemplate your place in the world around you and simply exist for a few moments in time, you come out ahead, especially when your competition is racing along without the slightest idea of what they’re fulfilling…and what they’re not.
Two days after this flooded my mind, forcing me to spend the better part of an evening laying on the floor, visualizing these lessons like projections on the white space of the ceiling, the doctor cut off my cast and told me I was a free woman. I’m still supposed to take it easy, to avoid walking so many miles in a day or wearing my favourite heels for some weeks to come, but I can get back to the life I’ve built for myself. It was like everything—my broken foot, my damaged bone, my extended stay in suburbia—was a direct hit with the Universal baseball bat telling me to slow down, if not by choice, then by any means necessary. Being forced to a stop was the only way for me to learn this all important lesson. And like any lesson learned, once I passed the test, I was allowed to move on. My life won’t be like it was before all of this occurred, and I don’t expect it to be, but I’ll be implementing my newly acquired knowledge as I rebuild. Opportunities for downtime will be built into my schedule to keep things on track, even if it means forcing myself into group meditations or blocking off hours in the park. Personal growth should always be a priority—if you aren’t moving forward, you’re standing still.

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