One of the first lessons you learn as a professional cook is never to complain or acknowledge that you need a break.
Cooks don't take breaks--we push through the fatigue, through burnt forearms and cut fingers, through all sorts of emotional and physical distress, in order to get our work done. Great cooks, much like practiced yogins, are able to get past the distractions, to sink in despite them, and to reach the spot where they can be fully present, focused on nothing more than making each dish perfect.
In my own eagerness to be the best student, I quickly internalized only the first (and most obvious) part of this equation as a young cook--the part that says you must work hard, give everything you have, at all times, if you want to be any good at your job.
This philosophy worked pretty well for me for 10 years, so I started applying it in other parts of my life, in hope I could progress as quickly.
It was with this intensity, and adhikara, or sense of authority and ownership, that I initially approached my yoga practice, attending class four or five times a week, signing up for every possible workshop, and forcing various body parts into increasingly advanced forms of asana, whether it hurt or not. After all, I thought, I'm a cook, conditioned to ignore pain in pursuit of perfection.
I'm sure you can see where this is headed. Injury.
Or more accurately, injury after injury after injury. Which I continued to ignore, billing them more as rites of passage than signs that I needed to take a break and make a shift. It didn't matter that everyone around me was telling me to slow down--after all, they didn't know my capacity. They didn't understand just how much I could take.
Simultaneously, off the mat I was pushing myself to equally insane limits, juggling a new business, teaching public and private classes, contributing regularly to multiple publications, and organizing a host of widespread community events.
Everyone from my parents, friends and students to my customers and even near-strangers I'd encounter told me I was doing too much. I took it as a compliment--here I was, practically superhuman in my capability to get so much more done than anyone else. What did they know? I had special powers, so slowing down didn't apply to me.
It's funny, because when I'm cooking, I make it a priority to be totally in tune with the ingredients I'm using. Through much trial and error, I've realized that the time letting dough or cooked meats rest is as important as the time spent kneading or grilling. It's the time pickles spend fermenting that makes them so wonderful, not everything that comes before. Though I believe so strongly that that rest is what allows the dish to be more delicious rather than signaling some sort of shortcoming because the food can't be ready immediately, it never occurred to me to apply that same point of view to my own life: Rest can be a sign of strength rather than a liability. No, I was all about push-push-push.
Until too much really did become too much.
I knew I'd reached my limit when my body, mind, and spirit all broke down simultaneously last month. I gave in, thankful that nothing too serious transpired, but recognizing that I was at a crossroads: I could decide to make a change in my patterns and make space for rest by creating clear boundaries around what I am and am not willing to take on, or I could continue at the same pace only to end up in a spectacularly devastating crash-landing. The choice was finally clear.
So I committed to changing, instituting a plan to take a complete day off each week, practicing saying no to folks asking me to help or work for them, and planning my first real vacation in five years.
I'm on my way to the beach now, committed to leaving the computer off, reading books only for pleasure, and being as vigilant about rest as I've been about work. In my heart of hearts, I believe it's this time and space that will allow me to emerge with both freshness and richness, ready to go deeper into my work and practice than I could have reached with any amount of pushing.